How I Got Covid-19: Community Spread in Nicaragua

The Ministry of Health says it’s given “responsible monitoring” to thousands of Nicaraguans sick with Covid-19, but doesn’t explain what that follow-up consists of. Illustration: Juan Garcia.

“I was very careful, but even so I ended up bringing COVID-19 into my workplace,” says one Nicaraguan. She believes she infected five of her workmates.

By Yader Luna (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – “I don’t know exactly who gave me COVID-19, but I do know where and what day I got it.” So affirms Elba Ileana Molina, a journalist from the department of Carazo.

She recalls that in mid-May, she went to interview the family of a young man. The youth had recently died from COVID-19 in San Jose de Masatepe. The parents complained that the Ministry of Health authorities had forced them to bury their son immediately. However, they hadn’t come back to offer any follow-up, or to suggest that they quarantine. “They came to the house to fumigate, they gave us some pills, but they never came back,” they told her.

“Several of the family members had fevers and other symptoms of COVID-19. Even though I was using a mask the whole time, I’m sure I caught it there,” Molina explains.

She admits that she constantly goes out on the streets for work. But it was in the days after that interview that she first began to feel symptoms. First her eyes burned and her muscles ached.  However, she didn’t think about the coronavirus until the night of May 19. That night, fever took over her body, and she became easily fatigued.

The chain of contagion

She consulted with a friend who was a doctor. He told her that her symptoms pointed to COVID-19.  Immediately, she isolated herself and decided to remain home alone. She sent her children and her mother to a neighboring house.  “I communicated with them through a window, and they passed me food there,” she recalls.

“The isolation kept everyone else in my household from getting it. I spent two weeks alone at home and only spoke with my children on the telephone. It was painful not to be able to hug them,” she says.

Elba Molina immediately stopped showing up at the “Romance” radio station in Jinotepe, Carazo, where she worked. Nonetheless, she was astonished to learn that another five people who worked for the station had begun to have symptoms.

“I’m sure that the virus died with me, and I didn’t infect anyone else in my family circle. I can’t say the same of my fellow workers at the radio, though. It’s very probable that, although I was very careful, I may have brought COVID-19 into my workplace,” she says.

“I got COVID-19 at work”

Letzira Sevilla, the station’s web editor, thinks it very probable that the virus reached the workplace that way. “Since the pandemic was announced, I was very fearful of getting infected. I took all the necessary measures,” she declares. Her fears were greater, since she suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

She recalls that she had a urinary tract infection during those days in May. So, when she began to feel the symptoms of COVID-19, she thought it was “something else”. She self-medicated.

She eventually called one of the free medical help lines, and a doctor told her it could be COVID-19. “With all my chronic diseases I thought that I was going to die,” Sevilla remembers. Letzira clung to the thought that she had no cough, and she hadn’t lost her sense of taste or smell.  She also self-isolated at home. However, she was alarmed to learn that two other reporters and the radio controller also began to have symptoms.

Three days later, her fevers began to ease. “I declared victory, because my other great fear was infecting my youngest son. He was born premature and has lung problems,” the journalist, a native of Diriamba, states.

Unfortunately, the intense fevers returned. The doctor that took her case warned: “If you don’t go to the hospital, the consequences could be fatal.”  At that moment, she was finding it exhausting to breathe.

She became very ill

The doctor prescribed medicine for the reporter, but she couldn’t find it anywhere in the department of Carazo. Then, a former boss called her and offered to help. She immediately went to the Vivian Pellas Hospital, a private hospital in Managua.

The disease had affected her lungs, and she spent eleven days in the hospital. She almost reached the point of needing a respirator, but then began to recover. “I’m alive by a miracle of God,” she believes.

In those same days, her mother tested positive for COVID-19. She lost her sense of taste and smell, but she was able to be treated at home. “She was the only person I infected,” Letzira Sevilla affirms.

She was left wondering whether she caught the virus at the radio station, or somewhere else.

“The virus is very easy to pass on. You don’t know if you got it from someone who was asymptomatic, or how many people you yourself infected, without intending to,” she reflects.

During that period, two other collaborators at the radio station also caught the virus. One of them, who had a Saturday program, subsequently died of COVID-19. “It was all very quick. It’s very probable that she got infected right there,” Sevilla fears.

Letzira Sevilla now stays home. “I’m afraid of getting infected again, and that this time I won’t survive.”

“I gave it to almost my whole family”

“From the middle of March onwards, I stayed home,” “Gabriel” tells us. “I worked from home, and my daughter stopped going to school. Weeks later, I had to go back to work and resume using the bus. “That was my principle fear. People pile into those buses, and you don’t know if they’re taking care of themselves or not,” he explains.

He doesn’t know when he caught COVID-19, or where. His symptoms began on May 8th, so he estimates that he must have caught the virus a week before. “Maybe on the bus, or maybe in the sales office where I work.”

At that time, the Nicaraguan government was denying – as it continues to do today – that there was any community spread. “Gabriel” recalls that he went out to run after work, as he does every afternoon. That day, though, he felt an unusual shortness of breath.  He immediately went to a health center. “They ordered me to rest. They didn’t tell me I had COVID-19, but they sent me the treatment for it,” he details.

His parents and his wife quarantined with him. No one left the house. In the days that followed, though, everyone but his older sister and his daughter began to feel symptoms.

“I think I may have been the one who brought the virus home. I was the person who went out the most. I traveled daily from Jinotepe to Managua,” he tells us. They’re not certain, however. They also don’t know if they infected anyone else close to them, before they went into isolation.

“I, not my son, may have been the first”

“Paola”, “Gabriel’s” mother, states: “Sometimes I think that I could have been the first one infected, not my son.  I work at the Masaya market.” A few days before her son had COVID-19 symptoms, she had developed an unexplained itch, all over her body.

During the days they were confined, her oldest daughter had to take charge of the whole household. Sometimes they believe that she might have been the first case, but that she was asymptomatic. She used to go out very frequently to meet with her friends. “Everyone manages their own fears,” she’d tell them when they berated her for going out so much.

“They’re being careful in my friends’ house,” was another of her responses.

Her boyfriend, “Joaquin”, was also diagnosed with COVID-19. “It’s hard to know how I caught it. In those days, I didn’t see anyone in the family except my girlfriend. But she never had symptoms. Sometimes I think I got it playing soccer with friends,” says “Joaquin”.

He quarantined in his room and continued working online as he’d done for several months. “I forced myself to keep up with what I had pending. Often, though, the fatigue and the body aches overcame me,” he explains.

“Joaquin” remained lying down because his head hurt and his energy was very low. “The worst thing about the disease is the fear you feel. You think how you can suddenly get worse. Also, about the chance of infecting other people”

During those days, he thought about all the “careless outings” he’d gone on with his girlfriend. “Joaquin” feared that his carelessness may have infected someone else, including his mother who lives with him.

“Joaquin” concludes: “The virus left my body, but the fear is still with me.”

Read more on NIcaragua here.