My Experience with COVID-19

Por Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

A line to by food on a street in Mayari, Holguin, Cuba. Photo: gob.cu

HAVANA TIMES – I knew that the new Coronavirus variant was running more rampant, almost out of control, in my municipality of Mayari and across the Holguin province. It was clear that lockdown measures and protocol weren’t working and you could sense danger in the neighborhood, with suspicious cases popping up here and there, a neighbor who suddenly died with symptoms and a lot of people saying that she just had a “bad case of the flu”.

My nephew was the one who passed it on to me. As he’s so young, his symptoms were so mild that he didn’t even think it was COVID. I was the first person in my house to show symptoms. I suddenly felt really unwell, on August 6th. Really, really unwell. I went from feeling great to not being able to stand for longer than 15 minutes, with a fever of 38.5 degrees Celsius and the strength of a 5-year-old child.

I was like that for four days, isolated in a small room in the house, believing that I could protect the rest of my family. However, everybody was already infected and in the incubation stage, it was just a matter of hours. When I came out of this phase, my wife began showing symptoms, and my little girl the day after that. Then, my parents, my sisters, the rest of my nieces and nephews and in-laws. Even though we all live in different houses, we normally have a lot of contact with each other.

I soon found out that the entire neighborhood was like me, and the neighborhood next door and the one next to that one too, in just a matter of days. In short, the entire municipality and province. Well, I was talking to friends from other provinces on social media, and I got the idea that the entire country is in the same situation.

I suffered aches and pains, a loss of appetite, a constant cough, muscular and joint pain, lost my sense of taste and smell, and worst yet, the fear of dying. I’m still half-asthmatic.

Yep, the reality is that you become afraid of dying, of suddenly getting worse, being taken to the hospital and never coming back. You see your neighbor, an old school friend, a person from the other street, a friend’s husband, the old lady on the corner, being rushed to the hospital and never coming back, and you fear you’ll be next or one of your loved ones. Because there isn’t any oxygen, or Interferon hasn’t come in, or antibiotics have run out.

You’ll see, it won’t kill any of us! was our phrase to give each other strength.

In the three weeks we all had COVID, nobody came to check on us. Somebody came when we’d already been through it, a doctor had promised to examine us but he couldn’t keep his word. Nor was there a doctor at the GP’s office because the doctor that works there also had COVID, as well as her family. There still isn’t a doctor.

I didn’t even think about going to the hospital or to the polyclinic. Just like everyone else, we were more afraid of isolation centers than of the virus. Plus, my nephew’s family, which is where we caught the virus from, went to the Doctor on Call several times and never had a PCR or rapid antigen test done, because there weren’t any tests. They were sent home with the grandfather really sick. The grandfather died from COVID in the end, at the hospital when they finally decided to admit him. Just like 90% of deaths, they failed to mention it on his death certificate because he never had a test done.

I shared the news about us having COVID with some friends, and they mobilized immediately to get us medicines. Some friends in the capital managed to get medicines and even though it wasn’t easy, they sent them to Santiago de Cuba, 130 km from my house, and it cost me dearly to get them picked up by a scooter. However, the most important thing was that I had medicines for me and my family in less than 72 hours. A great privilege, because no medicines could be found in Mayari for whatever the price, people were only drinking infusions and steaming.

Feeling out the abyss between official statistics of deaths and infections and the reality of the spreading virus, has been a great feat. It’s different in local media, maybe because it’s harder to block out the sun with a finger, and they publish more realistic data. Then, you see Dr. Duran give much lower numbers or nothing on the national TV news.

It seems that when the epidemiological situation is under control, data is quite realistic, but when things get tough, it’s a whole different story. I’ve been able to confirm this firsthand.

It’s been a tough experience because everything is very bleak and uncertain when you are sick at the same time as those around you, and when you know that so many people didn’t make it, you realize that living is a privilege.

Read more from Osmel Ramirez here.

Osmel Ramirez

I'm from Mayari, a little village in Holguín. I was born on the same day that the Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975. A good omen, since I identify myself as a pacifist. I am a biologist but I am passionate about politics, history and political philosophy. Writing about these topics, I got to journalism, precisely here on Havana Times. I consider myself a democratic socialist and my main motivation is to try to be useful to the positive change that Cuba needs.


12 thoughts on “My Experience with COVID-19

  • September 8, 2021 at 3:16 pm
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    My comments about the actions of the Cuban government regarding Covid, were just that, not criticisms! I even commented upon the advantages of being a communist country. Sitting at home and daily watching Dr. Duran provide his detailed figures of infections in every village, town and city, followed by the totals for each province and the low (relative to others) level of deaths, was very reassuring and persuasive. Providing that one wore a mask when out for the daily short walk with the dog, there was a feeling of security, visits to the centre of the community and the shops, were not as re-assuring. The close proximity of line-ups for hours, under canopies, and even with the traditional limitations of numbers permitted into any shop at any one time, was not encouraging. Clearly there was a lot of close contact – “que es ultimo” at the panderia which was doing its best with peculiar flours including corn and pumpkin.
    But unlike the democracies, there was no questioning of the figures and how they were obtained? One can recall none less than Donald J. Trump, suggesting that if testing levels were reduced, fewer cases of Covid would be counted! There is logic to that! So where was all the daily reported testing going on in Cuba? Not at the schools, not at the shops, so where?
    We were all are just supposed to accept the figures provided by Dr. Duran and as I have said. he is persuasive. Then the Propaganda Department got into it, with a succession of communist political figures on TV extolling the virtues of their believes. Who popped up as a member of the Party supporting those believes, but Dr. Duran. Now I am aware dani, that you may say my suspicions are based upon my detestations of communism, but the questions remain – and why it was that all of a sudden the reported low level of infections shot up although public behaviour and compliance with regulations had not changed? Was it a means of persuading people to get vaccinated as the Cuban vaccines had then appeared? Was it a fear tactic, or was it a recognition that the reality could no longer be hidden?
    It is that, coupled with years of prolonged experience of life in Cuba, which makes me concur with Moses Patterson’s comment about “deceit and denial”. Was I too lulled into a sense of false security?

  • September 8, 2021 at 12:20 pm
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    Carlyle – this is interesting stuff about your experience. From what I understand you are pretty much agreeing that Cuba did control the spread of the virus quite well until recently. Though you do seem a bit inherent in that you criticize the government for being too strict and on others of being too lax. The truth is the countries that locked down early and hard have been the most successful. Those that dithered around herd immunity suffered greatly like the UK and the US. The other factor is the interconnectivity of the country. Belgium suffered badly because of being the centre and capital of the EU even though it had locked down early. Cuba being an island and pretty isolated except for tourism had an advantage.

    Like I’ve said already the food shortages have been bad which has always been true to some extent in Cuba. However, the lines aren’t necessarily that dangerous. For one they are outside and the virus doesn’t spread that well in those situations. Also as long as people are in a queue they are only likely to infect the person on either side. People bunched up without masks is another thing. From what I’ve heard the police were very strict about masks. You could even be fined for pulling the mask up to have a drink.

    It is far more dangerous to have kids in school because the virus spreads rapidly inside and not so much outside and kids are not affected or catch it as much. Bad for their education sure, but in combatting the virus probably better to have the schools closed.

    Maybe Cuba’s decision not to join Covax will be a costly mistake. Time will tell.

  • September 6, 2021 at 3:29 pm
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    As I was in Cuba when the first case of Covid 19 was an Italian tourist arriving in Trinidad de Cuba on March 11, 2020, with the first Cuban testing positive in Matanzas on March 17 (said to have been contracted at Varadero from a Canadian tourist) followed by all TV stations showing a round table (Mesa Redondo) at 6.00 p.m. with the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister and Vice Prime Minister, during which Covid 19 measures introduced included closing all airports with effect from March 30, 2020 – with foreigners having to leave, I know the measures that were taken initially. I returned to Cuba on the first available flight in November 2020 by which time additional stricter measures had been introduced, and remained at home there for some nine months – hence I was in Cuba on July 11. I attended MININT offices to extend my visa twice – as usually i am limited to six months. Day in, day out, I watched and listened to Dr. Duran persuasively providing the detailed statistics of how many people had become infected and how many had succumbed, within each community and in each province. As a communist country, Cuba demonstrated the advantages of having almost total control of movement and behaviour – unlike the democratic countries, there was no debate about schools and childrens education. They were – and remain – closed. To take a taxi to be PCR tested, required written permission and police check points were installed (two in a 25 mile journey). Entry into Havana also required a written permission, with again, a succession of check-points. It all worked pretty well until mid July, when the Covid 19 cat eventually got out of the bag. On July 15, total deaths in Cuba recorded as being from Covid – Dr. Duran’s figures – were 1726. The daily reporting in such detail did act to persuade that there actually was control and that the figures were accurate. That now is questionable following the explosion of the infection. There are some obvious questions. How was it that the daily line-ups for food where people would wait for five or six hours in very close proximity to each other, with not all wearing masks, did not result in rapid increase in infection? The police attending those line-ups and issuing numbers, did little to alleviate the obvious and consistent problem. the schools were closed, so where were the students? Not at home, where as anyone who knows Cuba, knows that few homes provide space to swing a cat, and three or four generations live in unavoidable close proximity. Where were all the reported PCR tests being held – we saw and heard of none in our community. The students were – and are – out on the streets, kicking a semi-deflated football and/or gathered together in groups chatting and joking, some with masks, and some without. Where are the police who are supposed to be checking to prevent such gatherings? With that incredible grape-vine that exists in Cuba and the rapidity of which was demonstrated on July 11, the students know when the police are going to arrive and drift off singly in to adjacent streets to the one where they had gathered, only to re-group when the police have gone.
    Although I eventually left Cuba when a weekly flight became available and ran the gauntlet of a three hour taxi ride (with letter of permission and six check-points), entry into Canada with its regulations of hotel stay or $5,000 fine, passing -slowly – through three airports and two flights, I am in daily face-to-face contact with my wife and sometimes others. Cuba is now placing its entire hopes upon its own vaccines which require three doses. It hopes to vaccinate the entire population by early December. The schools remain closed, the food line-ups grow as does the level of frustration in the population. The infection level is like that of the US, now clearly beyond control. All hope is based upon the vaccines, which have apparently not met international standards of testing and require three doses. There are no alternatives as the Cuban government would not – unlike most other countries – join COVAX. Unlike the US, Cubans will accept vaccination, the hope and prayers being that theirs are effective. Was there deceit and denial dani? It was well into 2021 before the Cuban vaccines were declared to be complete and available to some. Dr. Duran’s daily briefings were persuasive – but perhaps significantly, only had low figures until the vaccines were said to be successful. It is considerably more difficult to accept Cuban government assurances when considering past records, and Dr. Duran no longer pretends to be neutral, but has now participated in Communist Party of Cuba propaganda.
    You dani, may choose to believe.
    As for the US, my views upon the politics of that country are no secret. It is under grave threat of fascism and will struggle to survive current lunacy.

  • September 6, 2021 at 10:51 am
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    Carlyle. Let me try one more time. Moses prefaced his remarks with “as an American…” and then went on to say “the problem in Cuba is …” therefore making a direct comparison between the two countries handling of the Covid situation. Therefore Nick was perfectly in his rights to point out the irony of his remarks.

    Rather than spouting propaganda and sweeping statements how about looking at the actual data. For example the number of deaths https://ourworldindata.org/covid-deaths?country=USA~GBR~CUB or change the dropdown to confirmed cases or number of vaccinated. What you will see is what I would have predicted – Cuba for the most part has done pretty well in containing the virus up until now though has been pretty poor at solving the problems of food shortages. What has happened recently is that there has been a notable spike which maybe due to the extra virulent varients or problems with the vaccine or maybe just bad luck. I don’t really know. And yes the Cuban government should come clean on what is happening.

  • September 5, 2021 at 6:54 pm
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    I quote NicK !

    ‘He (Moses Patterson) actually has the bare faced audacity to state that the problem in Cuba is deceit and denial’

    I concur and illustrated it by quoting Fidel Castro.

    Comprendo dani?

    Can you disagree with Moses Patterson’s observation about the US, that despite “all the best medications, all the best equipment and hospital facilities” Covid overwhelmed? One could argue that it overwhelmed as a consequence of the stupidity of Donald J. Trump’s abysmal lack of leadership and promotion of ridiculous concepts such as swallowing cleaning products, or the Republican Party at large for pursuit of totally bogus conspiracy theories. But one only has to take a brief look at the published statistics, and listen to US medical staff, to know that Covid overwhelmed the US hospital facilities, even although as i have previously pointed out, the US spends 17.2% of its GDP upon health. As a direct comparison with neighbouring Canada, currently 53% of US residents are fully protected by vaccines. In Canada it is almost exactly 80%.

    It was the Cuban government that chose not to join COVAX. Denial or deceit?

  • September 5, 2021 at 9:12 am
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    Carlyle – you’ve got this one all wrong. Moses made the comparison of the USA with Cuba. And Nick pointed out the obvious irony of what he said. I only explained Nick’s comments as you had misunderstood them so badly.

  • September 4, 2021 at 3:01 pm
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    As according to Nick and dani, Moses Patterson as an American, holds some form of responsibility for that country’s actions and for Donald Trump, it is equally fair to apportion responsibility for UK actions and for Boris Johnson, to Nick and dani ! Nick is from the UK. From the UK!! I think it highly probable that dani too is from the UK!!

    It is noteworthy that in their rebuttal of my comments, they both chose to ignore the main point, which was that as illustrated, there is clear record of Fidel Castro as the leader of the revolution, practicing deceit and denial, it was that phrase used by Moses Patterson, that Nick chose to criticize.

    Deceit and denial remain a constant practice by the Cuban communist regime. Just as Fidel Castro described those who revolted against communist oppression in Hungary and Czechoslovakia as: “counter-revolutionaries”, Miguel Diaz-Canel similarly described those thousands of Cubans who had the courage to demonstrate on July 11. Doing so is in itself, both deceit and denial.

  • September 1, 2021 at 1:24 pm
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    Mr MacD’s comment is out of order.
    So he wishes to play ‘the race card’ on Mr P’s behalf???
    If someone comes out with a hypocritical remark, I’m gonna call that person out without giving a f**k about that person’s skin colour.
    I’m from a mixed family. Some people in my family are white. And some ain’t.
    For your information Mr MacD, I don’t give a sh*t either way – it’s my family.
    Dani is correct. He reads my comment correctly. Thank you Dani.
    Mr P states that Cuba is in ‘deceit and denial’ regarding Covid. This is grossly hypocritical. Not due to Mr P’s skin colour whatsoever, but due to the following:
    A – Mr P’s nationality
    B – Due to the disgraceful Covid-related deceit and denial which has cost hundreds of thousands of lives in the USA.
    C – Due to Mr P’s position as an constant apologist for the USA’s disgraceful, anti-freedom, anti-democratic, bully-boy policies toward the independent and sovereign, albeit highly flawed Cuba.

  • September 1, 2021 at 8:01 am
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    Carlyle – you have misunderstood Nick’s comment. He is pointing out how inadequate the health system was in the USA to deal with the pandemic. And the fact that Trump was in complete denial that covid was an issue.

  • August 31, 2021 at 1:08 pm
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    Nick bleats that Moses Patterson is from the USA, as if that is cause to doubt his views or sincerity. Should one automatically dismiss all that emanates from the US ? Nick would be first to support derogatory remarks about the US if made by a black American. But it just so happens that when a black American makes critical comment about the Castro regime, Nick has to insult in an endeavor to protect his image of that regime. So, let me as a Canadian, repeat the statement that the problem in Cuba is deceit and denial. They are not the only problems, but they have been practiced by the communist regime since January 1959. For example !

    “There can be no danger if we do what Cubans want, if we provide social practice and solve the substantial social problems of all Cubans of liberty, of respect for individual rights, of freedom of the press and thought, of democracy, of liberty to select their own government.” Fidel Castro 16th March, 1959

    Thus a list of the very things that the Castro regime has denied Cubans! Was that not deceit? Where is the respect of individual rights – or was that demonstrated on July 11, 2021? Where is the freedom of the press – or is that what Mesa Redondo demonstrates? Where is the freedom of thought if one dare not express it? When will the people of Cuba have the liberty to select their own government?

    The reality Nick, is that as Moses Patterson said: “The problem in Cuba is deceit and denial.” Your abuse of him does not change fact!

  • August 28, 2021 at 5:59 pm
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    Mr Patterson is from the USA. From the USA!!
    He actually has the bare assed audacity to state that ‘The problem in Cuba is deceit and denial’
    This statement exhibits a ‘to infinity and beyond’ degree of hypocrisy.

  • August 26, 2021 at 4:42 pm
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    As an American, even with all the best medications, all the best equipment and hospital facilities, COVID can and is able to overwhelm. The problem in Cuba is deceit and denial. Did the local vaccines really exist? Did they really work? Was the worst pandemic in one hundred years really where lies and propaganda would rule the day?

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