El Paso editor explains decision to publish jarring COVID-19 photo
As COVID continues to exact a devasting toll on El Paso, photojournalist Briana Sanchez set out to show what that looks like, capturing an image of an attendant straining to wheel a coronavirus victim to a mobile morgue at the El Paso County Office of the Medical Examiner and Forensic Laboratory.
After consultation with other editors, the Times decided to publish that image to show the impact of the pandemic. Editor Tim Archuleta wrote about that decision in a column: “These are our people with the word ‘COVID’ hand-scrolled on the white bags. It’s a disturbing scene as the attendants go about the morbid task of cautiously handling the bodies with respect for the dead. Since these photos were taken, 187 more El Pasoans have died from COVID-19. As of Saturday, 853 have died since the coronavirus reached the Borderland earlier this year. This is the deadly truth of COVID-19.” He also wrote what the assignment was like for Sanchez, sitting in her car after photographing the scene: “Like many El Pasoans, I have been mourning this time in our history,” Sanchez said. “To see the physical toll it has taken on our community, it just hit me so deeply that all I could do was sit in silence and cry. Cry for the way things used to be and cry for the people we have lost.”
The Officer of the Medical Examiner responded to the column, writing: “We feel the same sentiment as Briana as we work tirelessly to give each one of our community members a temporary resting place in a dignified manner. We too are broken and exhausted. If 9 mobile morgues have not made an impact in our community, hopefully this photo will today. I thank you for the empathy and respect this photo brings on the reality of all the families who have lost a loved one to this pandemic.”