Covid-19 is here to stay, says Pan Am Health official; Cuenca deaths are ‘minimal’

Jul 6, 2020 | 46 comments

Pan American Health Organization advisor and Quito epidemiologist Catalina Yépez says that the Covid-19 virus is probably here to stay. “When an approved vaccine is widely available, there will be a drop in cases but this could be a year or two,” she says. “Even then, estimates are that less than 40 percent of the population – possible as little as 30 percent — will be inoculated so cases will continue to be reported.”

Experts say that Covid-19 will become more manageable as more data becomes available.

Although Yépez says Covid is much more dangerous, she suggests its spread may be similar to that of common strains of the flu. “I think we must plan for the long-term and be realistic in what we face. In Ecuador, only about 25 percent of the population gets flu shots each year and it is important to remember that those vaccines are only 60 percent effective.”

Yépez says that Covid “is not synonymous with death” and should not create panic that permanently disrupts people’s lives. “We must handle it but it cannot be allowed to destroy the social and economic fabric of our lives. We must adjust but an overreaction could be far worse than the disease itself,” She added: “Based on the latest information, the fatality rate of coronavirus is between .07 percent and 1.3 percent, with the death rate for the vast majority of the population being much lower.”

Cuenca infectious disease expert Paúl Maldonado agrees with Yépez and says the local death toll from Covid has been “minimal” since the outbreak began in March. “We have recorded 58 Covid deaths since March 1 and while this is regrettable it is important to understand it is only about one percent of the deaths recorded in the city in the past four months,” he said Sunday in a radio interview. “People are startled at the number of cases reported each day but Cuenca is a city of 700,000 and infections are inevitable. We must consider the overall picture and not focus on the numbers.”

Maldonado says there is a common misunderstanding about the pressure on hospitals reported in the media. “We hear that they are being overwhelmed and are about to collapse but the fact is that the public hospitals in Cuenca operate close to full capacity on a normal basis,” he says. “They serve most of southern Ecuador so they are always crowded and under pressure. And they are underfunded. About half of the intensive care patients in the hospitals have Covid but other patients are suffering other diseases or injuries.

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He added: “It is also important to keep in mind that we have far fewer ICU units in Ecuador than more developed countries. In Cuenca, for example, there are about five percent as many intensive care beds as in a U.S. city of comparable population. This is due to a number of factors, including funding, a younger population as well as cultural norms against medical life extension for dying patients that is common in the U.S. and Europe.”

On Sunday, Ecuador’s national Emergency Operations Committee reported an increase of 423 new cases from Saturday, bringing the total since the beginning of the pandemic to 61,958. Total confirmed deaths increased by 13, to 4,781. Cases in Azuay Province increased to 1,935, with 1,686 of those being reported in Cuenca.

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