another dark chapter on COVID-19
By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – Between the second half of July and the first half of September, exactly two months, Holguin province experienced a steep spike in cases, which was maybe the same or greater than the surge in cases in Matanzas in previous weeks, but it didn’t get the same media coverage.
The reason? It was happening in unison with other provinces such as Ciego de Avila, Santiago de Cuba, Cienfuegos, Guantanamo and even Matanzas, which still hadn’t recovered. There wasn’t the same media whirlwind, but it was a great cause for concern, there’s no doubt about it.
It was terrible. There were no medicines, no doctors, with doctor offices crammed with people and people dying in corridors or admitted into hospitals without oxygen and antibiotics. So many heartbreaking stories that will make even the most reserved of you tear up.
However, amidst this crisis, there was something else that really annoyed people: incoherent official statistics. We could say that they were insufficient, false, manipulated… but let’s just say they were insufficient and leave the other adjectives hanging.
Official statistics in Holguin province haven’t been revealed jointly, but the Mayari municipality has been representative of the region, with an average infection rate, and it’s extremely high. For example, it hasn’t been as high as in Moa municipality (the hardest-hit), or Cueto and some neighborhoods in Holguin city, but it’s well above other places that haven’t been hit as hard, although they’ve still been hit.
Mayari, to the east of the province, is the second most densely-populated town in the region, after the capital city that shares the province’s name, and during 2020, it had the disease pretty much under control, when there were less infectious variants. We finished 2020 with just 14 positive cases being reported, three of which were native and the rest were imported.
Far from what happened this year, where infection rates were already soaring before the arrival of the Delta variant in the region, because the health system was collapsing and the population’s need to overlook safety protocols for a long time because they had to go out and look for basic essentails amidst shortages, in a never-ending and many times fruitless battle on the street and in huge lines.
Positive cases doubled in Mayari in January alone, with 31 cases being reported; and in February, January’s cases doubled; this went on until June, and we can say that the statistics were in keeping with the reality of the pandemic up until then. But in July, when the Delta variant came, the infection rate was greater and shortages of food and medicines were also greater. That’s when there was a boom in positive cases.
However, while official statistics in July record a significant leap in cases, with numbers increasing by 980% (almost ten times greater), the number of real cases was much higher.
The health system was unable to trace cases, deal with suspected cases and the sudden deaths of patients with symptoms, much less give them a test to prove the diagnosis. The same thing happened in August, which was the roughest month, with the highest transmission rate and number of deaths, and there weren’t diagnostic kits available for most cases.
It’s easy to discover the absurdity of these statistics: for example, in my semi-urban neighborhood, there are over 3000 inhabitants and according to estimates from researchers and the doctors here, over 70% of us, well above 2000 people have had COVID-19 between July, August and September. Almost all of us without a PCR diagnosis, because of a shortage of tests.
Not even those who were admitted into hospital, on their death beds, or those who ultimately passed away. My neighbor Luz was the first one to die after several days of being really sick in the hospital with a bad case of the flu, and she wasn’t given a PCR test. Evelio, the old man living opposite, had COVID-19 at home along with his whole family, without any of them being tested, of course, and he got so sick that after he got better, he only lasted another two weeks.
This is the story of pretty much everyone here. It’s rare to hear somebody say that they had it and were tested. My nephew was the one who infected the entire family, all four households (my parent’s home, mine and my two sisters’ homes). None of us had a PCR test and we’re 14 people in total. But he caught it from his father’s family, where they all had it and they lost their grandfather.
They were even admitted into hospital and nobody was given a PCR test, not even the grandfather who passed away. His partner had COVID, as did the four relatives who carried his coffin who barely had the strength to hold him up. And none of them were tested!
In short, there were more positive cases in my neighborhood alone during this peak period of infection than those officially reported for the municipality, which only accounts for 2.8% of the total population. Many doctors and experts who are critical of these unethical practices say that these figures represent 5% of reality, at best.
According to an expert in Hygiene and Epidemiology who asked to remain anonymous (the only way he could talk): “confirmed numbers are one thing, the ones that are made public, and it’s another thing to ignore what really happened.”
“The Hygiene and Epidemiology board manage estimated figures of what happened, because it’s necessary to evaluate the epidemiological situation using real numbers and to outline strategies. I’m a supporter of making these figures public, and I’ve always said so, but the orders from above are different,” he says.
Read more from Osmel Ramirez here on Havana Times.