Pandemic Death Toll Begins to Spike in Bluefields, Nicaragua

Foto: La Costeñisima

Medical sources report 2500 suspected cases of Covid-19; hospital had to provide a new building to handle the flood of patients

By Vladimir Vásquez (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – In recent days, all the reports that come from Bluefields, on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, have the word “dead” in them. Last week in a period of 48 hours local media reported at least twelve deaths, and even though the causes are not specified, local medical sources consider this an alarming figure in times of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has already spread throughout that region of Nicaragua. 

In the streets of this very Caribbean town the commercial activity, including bars and clubs continues to be normal, just like the sales of fish and seafood. However, in the Ernesto Sequeira Blanco Regional Hospital another reality is seen. 

Sources at the hospital told Confidencial that during May and June, some 2500 suspected cases of Covid-19 have been treated there: people who arrive with various symptoms or respiratory problems, several looking for space among the 117 beds in the center.

Another source tells how the Clínica Médica Previsional which bears the same name as the hospital had to be evacuated to smaller premises, so that patients in delicate conditions could be treated in that building where they added some 35 beds. 

Deaths from Covid-19 double in one week 

Medical sources, who asked not to be identified to avoid reprisals, report an estimate of 60 deaths during this period, with days when up to four to six people have died, and the patients, one source adds, continue to arrive, even though there are only nine doctors for the whole building and nine respirators for critical cases. 

In the scarce information of the Ministry of Health (Minsa) on the pandemic there is no specific data on the departments or autonomous regions of the country. The only data by region comes from the COVID-19 Citizen’s Observatory, which as of June 17 recorded 136 suspected cases. 

Bluefields’ Hospital. Photo: La Costeñísima

However, the number of deaths is not so distant and shows an accelerated increase. In contrast to the 60 deaths mentioned by medical sources, the Observatory reports 34, a number that doubled from their report seven days earlier, when it counted 17 deaths.

Drama about Covid-19 gets worse in communities 

Twelve days ago, Haydee Bautista’s mother and grandmother contracted Covid-19. They don’t know how it happened because their community, Karawala, had already decreed a self-quarantine since May 20th to avoid contagion.

Minsa arranged for one of the six water ambulances that it has nationwide to take both women to the Bluefields’ hospital, where they are in delicate condition. They had to travel for about three and a half hours to get there from the estuary of La Cruz de Río Grande, located 130 kilometers from the region’s capital, since there are no roads to transport the sick, and all transportation is by water.

But not everyone has access to the use or service of these speedboats or pangas, and with self-quarantine, the service of these has also been reduced.

“Pangas don’t pass every two hours. They are scheduled one panga a day or none at all”, says Shakira Simmons, a Bluefields resident. In town transportation is more fluid, but to go to Managua has also become complicated: the national airline La Costeña suspended operations in May, and even with the new road, it is an eight-hour trip to the capital.

Bluefield’s residents are also concerned that a large part of the population is carrying on with their regular activities and with little protection measures. Sports events, bars, clubs, and commerce in general remain “normal”, despite the critical condition of the pandemic.

Thus, the risk also reaches people from the neighboring communities who continue to come to Bluefields to sell or buy products in their own boats or cayucos, but if they become infected, they will return with the virus to their locality.

Psychologist Lidia Hodgson says the population only began wearing masks at the end of May, and that the attempt at self-quarantine in Bluefields failed after Holy Week in April, when the city resumed its activities as if nothing had happened.

The unsuccessful self-quarantine is no coincidence. The economy in the area is mostly informal, and employment is reduced to state institutions or social programs. The rest is commerce and some private companies, like product distributors, retailers and banks. People then must find a way to survive, and they continue to work to pay for their food.  

The fear of the population: “One does not get out alive from the hospital”

Joseph Smith, a 58 years-old Bluefields native recovered from Covid-19 at home. “A doctor from the government told me to go to the hospital and I refused”, he says. “I refused because people who enter that hospital don’t come out alive”, he said.  

The problem, however, is that many who deal with the illness at home also prefer to use natural medicine, and doctors fear that the situation will get worse, multiplying infections and deaths and putting pressure on the limited capacity of the hospital.

At home, the population also faces the difficulties of irregular basic services. In town there is no stable running water service and in homes most people rely on their own wells, asking their neighbors for water or waiting for the pipes to work that week, if they are lucky.

The story is no different with the electric power service. Smith says that there are power outages from half an hour to six hours per day, an obstacle for those who might opt to work from home, and even among those who are hospitalized.

In the past week came the news about the death of journalist Sergio Leon Corea, director of the radio station La Costeñísima. The next day, the ex-president of the Regional Electoral Council, Orlando Obando, also passed, they were both admitted in the same hospital. 

Also this week, in a wholesale company the 93-year-old trader Francisco Quant was found dead. Although his cause of death has not been clarified, psychologist Lidia Hodgson notes that “these last few days have been hard for Bluefields, with so many news of deaths”, that the population is reporting “by word of mouth”, in the face of silence from the official authorities.