and a doubtful COVID-19 forecast for September
By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – The Mayari municipality, in eastern Holguin, Cuba is experiencing a critical epidemiological situation just like most of the other provinces in the country over the past two months, with a surge in COVID-19 infections and too many deaths. Which won’t be reflected in their real magnitude in daily statistics or the national news, unfortunately.
Since late August, local government authorities have been estimating a surge in the virus in September and have outlined a strategy, without announcing it explicitly but having to deal with the harsh reality. Many of us are doubting this forecast because we don’t believe things can get much worse than they were in August, as the perception those of us living here is that most of us have already had the disease.
An “amended quarantine” was adopted as part of this strategy, for 15 days, with the goal of making it as extreme as possible, closing everything down as much as possible between September 6th and 21st. The objective is to prevent people from moving around and forming crowds on the street, or outside stores and at workplaces, to stop the transmission of the virus.
However, people continue to go outside and line up outside stores, because the conditions just don’t exist for people to stay at home. Many People’s Councils (neighborhoods) have been able to establish couriers to deliver rationed products from the bodega store, but we know that they only cover 50% of basic essentials at the very most, and you have to go outside to find the rest on the irregular and more and more uncertain illicit market, without luck a lot of the time.
On another note, more field hospitals are being set up, in addition to those that already exist at schools and the city motel, to take in more patients suspected of or infected with COVID-19, at daycare centers too. They have a morgue on site, because deaths are very high and could increase even more.
However, in spite of increasing capacity, medicines are in shortage and there aren’t even enough health personnel, creating really terrible situations of suffering and inconceivable deaths, because really basic things can’t be found. These places aren’t in a more dire situation and overcrowded because most infected people never go to a medical center, out of their fear of these problems, and they stay at home as long as they can.
Real figures remain unknown, but from partial information that is filtered from health professionals and necrological services, we can deduce that deaths are as much as 10 times the municipal average, in August at least and so far in September, and the number of daily positive cases doesn’t even reflect 10% of the real number, because tests are in shortage, as are doctors and nurses.
The municipal strategy is topped off by the vaccination campaign that has finally kicked off these days (everything had initially been prepared for June, but it was canceled), but it coincides with a high circulation of the virus. According to the Municipal Public Health Board, approximately 80% of the population has been vaccinated, but this hasn’t curbed infections or extreme lockdowns.
According to many Mayari locals, such as Ana, a housewife who has already had the virus, “these figures show a lack of respect!” “What’s happening in our neighborhoods is totally different to news reports. Almost everyone on my block has had COVID. There are only three or four people left to get it.”
“Some people have been admitted into hospital on oxygen and everything, but according to them (the government) these people never had COVID-19 because they were never tested. At least ten people have died because of COVID-19 near my home, and only one of these deaths was reported by Duran (on the national TV report). It’s a lack of respect, so many lies,” she weighed in.
Meanwhile, Javier, a young farmer who was going to get vaccinated doesn’t want to anymore: “why? if I’ve already caught COVID-19 just a few weeks ago? Ah! I might get vaccinated next year, if things remain the same, but it doesn’t make any sense right now.”
In fact, at least half of the vaccinated population has already caught COVID-19 in recent months, so that they are at least 95% immune to SARS-CoV-2 by natural means, and according to the WHO, this immunity is effective for more than six months up until a year. The other half of the population who have had their first dose of the vaccine, most of them won’t reach their third dose without becoming infected, due to great circulation of the virus.
So, it’s expected that natural immunity to the virus in this situation of mass infections, which is known as “herd immunity”, will introduce an error which will most likely be attributed to vaccines, although their effect in these conditions will be minimal.
The Delta variant of the new Coronavirus has taken advantage of Cuban society’s weaknesses a great deal more than previous variants and has become unstoppable, or so it seems until the country attains herd immunity in the next few months. The virus has gained momentum in large lines, which are inevitable given the shortages that exist, and in people’s everyday hunt all over the city for basic essentials to get by or relieve pain.
It has also exposed the failures of the public heath system and the population’s low levels of trust and credibility in the government and its statistics, which are so out of tune with the reality that not even the acolytes of those in power believe them. Nor Mayari, nor any other Cuban municipality is able to escape this reality.