Expat couple found dead in their apartment; Concern grows about impact of reopenings; Local university will begin new semester with in-person classes

Sep 26, 2020 | 18 comments

Police believe that the deaths of two North Americans found Friday night in their northside Cuenca apartment was probably the result of carbon monoxide poisoning. Police say the couple, along with their dog, appear to have been dead for about five days.

Cuenca’s Catholic University will resume person-to-person classes October 19. (El Mercurio)

Police were called to investigate following reports from neighbors of a strong odor coming from the apartment at Guillermo Medina near Av, de las Américas. The bodies were taken to the Cuenca forensic center for autopsies.

A police detective at the scene said more information about victims will be released when the official cause of death is determined. “At this point, we can only report that the couple is elderly and believed to be U.S. citizens. We will provide additional details on Saturday or Sunday.”

Concerns that local Covid cases will spike
Although the Cuenca Emergency Operations Committee is studying protocols to allow the reopening of bars, discoteques and brothels, some worry that the end of other Covid-19 health restrictions will lead to a spike in infections.

“Before we open more businesses that sell alcohol and encourage close personal contact, we need to analyze the impact of the other reopenings since the health emergency ended,” says Fabricio Brito, a Cuenca internist and former regional health ministry director. “We are just beginning to see the increase in cases and I believe they are directly related to relaxing the rules. I think we can expect to see a major spike.”

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Municipal Councilman Alfredo Aguilar agrees but says there are limits to the controls the city or the national government can impose without a state of emergency. “We have banned the sale of alcohol, except in restaurants, after 8 p.m. and we believe this will help control the pandemic, especially among young people,” he said. “I think it is too early to say the disease is going out of control.”

Cuenca Mayor Pedro Palacios agrees and says hospitalizations have held steady in recent weeks. “Last week we had 179 new admissions and this week we had 180. I suggest that we not panic and be careful how we look at the data.”

Earlier in the week, Palacios said that the increase in Covid-19 cases, week over week, is due primarily to more testing. “We are giving more tests per capita than any canton in the country so it is understandable that our numbers are increasing. It is true that the number of deaths have increased but many of these are unrelated to the virus.”

Palacios says that an increase of police patrols is necessary to control the spread of Covid. “The experts tell us that large gatherings where alcohol is available is the biggest single incubator for the virus and we are taking measures to limit these activities.”

Brito says he understand the limits to government control but believes there may be hard times ahead. “I hope those who say that the virus is under control are correct. We will know soon enough.”

Catholic University plans in-person reopening
The administration of the Catholic University of Cuenca says it plans to hold face-to-face classes when the new semester begins October 19. University president Enrigue Pozo said Friday that the university is in consultation with the municipal government about the biosecurity measures it will observe when it reopens.

“We believe that personal contact is very important for the higher educational process and have observed the limitations of online instruction,” Pozo said. “We will take all precautions to protect the health of students and faculty but we are eager to return to the classroom.”

Among those precautions, he says, are a limitation of 15 students per classroom and a 30 percent capacity limit in all public areas of the university.

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