Deaths and serious illnesses return to near-normal levels but officials warn pandemic danger continues

Aug 22, 2021

Ecuador’s Ministry of Health reports that nationwide the number of hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19 are at the lowest levels since March 2020, when the pandemic was declared. Health officials in Cuenca and Azuay Province say their numbers reflect those at the national level.

Doctors credit dropping hospitalizations and deaths in Ecuador’s vaccination program.

“We are very encouraged by the recent reports that show Ecuador with one the lowest rates of Covid infections in the Americas,” says Health Minister Ximena Garzón. “While we are pleased with the new data, we urge citizens to maintain the precautions that have led to the recent improvement. The pandemic is not over.”

Medical experts credit the improving situation with the country’s aggressive vaccination program. “More than 50 percent of adults are fully vaccinated and millions more have had at least one dose,” says Fernando Ortega, director of intensive care at Cuenca’s José Carrasco Arteaga Social Security hospital. “More important, about 85 percent of those over 65 and with pre-existing medical conditions have been vaccinated. These are the people most likely to become seriously ill or die.”

Ortega says that his hospital and Cuenca’s Vicente Corral Moscoso Public Hospital have excess capacity in their intensive care facilities for the first time in months. “For most of the last year we have had a waiting list for ICU beds and now we are only 10 percent above normal,” he says.

The Cuenca Civil Registry office reports that excess deaths are only eight percent over pre-pandemic levels in the second and third weeks of August. Ortega says not all excess deaths are the result of the pandemic but believes most of them are.

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Nationwide, the Civil Registry says that excess deaths are running 11 percent above the pre-pandemic rate, compared to an average of 80 to 90 percent above normal from April 2020 to February 2021. The worst month was April 2020, when excess deaths were 416 percent above normal, mostly the result of the deadly Covid outbreak in Guayaquil.

The health ministry puts the total Covid-19 death toll at 32,036, a figure that includes both confirmed and probable cases.

Garzón insists that the country is not out of the woods and says the delta variant, currently circulating, and the lambda variant, which has also been detected, have not had their full impact. “I expect the numbers to go up again as delta spreads but I think they will not reach the numbers we had last year and early this year.”

Like Cuenca’s Ortega, assistant director of Guayaquil’s Guasmo Sur Hospital José Vergara credits vaccines with bringing down the Covid case count. “It is the biggest factor, no doubt, as well as the fact that many of the unvaccinated have developed natural immunity through infection.”

Vergara, a member of an international team compiling hospital data on the impact of vaccines, says he is seeing so-called “break-through” cases of the vaccinated but says he is encouraged that almost all them are minor. “It is a fact that they are occurring and I expect to see more, especially if more variants circulate, but so far the protection against serious infection is holding up. At my hospital, from June 1 to August 15, 155 patients required intensive care for coronavirus. Of the unvaccinated, 40 percent died while only 2.4 percent of the vaccinated died.”

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