Quito moves from red to yellow light Covid-19 health restrictions today despite warnings from some health professionals that the city is running out of ICU hospital beds. Mayor Jorge Yunda is also warning residents that ignoring social distancing rules could force a return to red light status.
With its move to yellow, Quito joins Ecuador’s four other largest cities, Guayaquil, Cuenca, Santo Domingo and Ambato, in relaxing coronavirus restrictions.
In addition to Yunda’s concern about a lack of social distancing, several health professionals say they worry that the city does not have enough intensive care hospital capacity. “We’ve increased the number of beds in recent weeks but today they are almost full and I’m alarmed that we could face a crisis if critical cases continue to rise,” says Carlos Hamilton, a public health professor at the University of San Francisco. “The primary reason we were in red was to maintain health care capacity and we currently have less than 10 beds available.”
Since mid-May, the number of ICU beds in Quito’s four public hospitals has increased from 31 to 116.
Ecuador Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos says, however, that the recent increase of Covid cases requiring intensive care is a “hold-over” from a spike in cases two or three weeks ago. “We have flattened the curve of new cases since then so the new hospitalizations are the result of infections that occurred at the peak. I agree the time is right to roll back some of the restrictions that have been in place since March.”
Zevallos said the experience of Guayaquil offers guidance to the rest of the country, including Quito. “A month ago, the hospitals were overwhelmed there [Guayaquil] but today the intensive care units are less than 50 percent full,” he says. “Since the pandemic began, we are learning that the virus behaves is a predictable pattern which we first observed first in Asia and then in Europe. Although we must be diligent in maintaining emergency health protocols, I can say with assurance that we are past the worst.”
He added that the recent shortage of ICU beds in Cuenca is similar to the situation in Quito. “I believe the pressure will pass as we begin to decline from maximum new infections.”
In addition to concerns about hospital bed availability in Cuenca, Director of ECU 911 Emergency Services Alfredo Medina says the city is grappling with another problem. “In recent random tests, we find that 80 percent of Covid cases are asymptomatic,” he says. “This is good on the one hand, since it means people are being infected but are not getting sick, but it is concerning on the other hand because asymptomatic people can spread the virus. It suggests the importance of testing and tracking those who are infected.”