Hundreds of Cuencanos lined up in more than 20 locations Saturday and Sunday to be tested for Covid-19 infection and to receive vaccinations against the virus. The long lines were typical of others around the country, prompted by an increase of cases and the spread of the Omicron variant.
More than 200 people were evaluated over the weekend by doctors and nurses in “triage tents” outside the Vicente Corral Moscoso public hospital. Most complained of cold- and flu-like symptoms, according to doctors. “Some said they were having difficulty breathing and others said they just felt bad and thought they had been infected,” said Carlos Oritz, an emergency room physician. “The symptoms we are seeing are consistent with those of the Omicron variant but it takes several days to process the tests so we cannot be sure since the Delta variant is still circulating. We only admitted three people to the hospital Saturday which indicates that this surge in the pandemic is less severe than earlier ones.”
According to the zonal office of the Health Ministry, almost 4,000 Covid tests have been taken in Cuenca since Friday. “About 20 percent of the tests are proving positive, a much higher rate than we experienced in November and early December,” a health ministry spokeswoman said. “Fortunately, most of those testing positive have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic and only require medical advice and medicine, not hospitalization.”
She added that the public health system expects an increase of hospitalizations and is preparing for it. “Even with milder cases, Omicron is extremely contagious, which means there will be an increase in the demand for hospital care in the coming days and weeks.”
The health ministry reports that public hospitals in Loja and Azogues are being “overwhelmed” by people seeking tests and evaluations for Covid. It said there have been some admissions but that most of those seeking help were being treated on an out-patient basis.
In Cuenca, lines stretched around the block in several locations of those seeking vaccine booster shots. All those over the age of 50, and those with chronic health conditions, are eligible for a fourth shot. Zonal health officials report that 86 percent of Cuenca residents have received two vaccine doses, the highest rate among the country’s major cities.
In his Sunday comments, Oritz said that many of those testing positive have been vaccinated but very few required hospitalizations. “Almost 90 percent of those in the hospital are not vaccinated, which proves that the vaccines work,” he said. “No one ever said vaccines give total protection from the virus but they reduce the severity.”
He also defended the Sinovac vaccine against claims that it is ineffective against Omicron. “Most of the patients who are testing positive have received Sinovac and we are not seeing more severe symptoms with them than with people who were vaccinated with Pfizer or other vaccines,” he said. He added that research showing reduced effectiveness from Sinovac focus on antibodies. “Yes, these have declined as they do in other vaccines but t-cells and b-cells are more important in fighting the infection.”