As Ecuador begins its second month of the coronavirus lockdown there is uncertainty among health officials whether the country is approaching the peak number of cases. While Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos expects “a flattening of the curve” of new cases this week or next, others say more data is needed.
“I don’t dispute that we are getting closer to the peak but I don’t believe we can accurately determine that until we have more test results,” say former health ministry director Daniel Rodríguez. “There is a massive backlog on tests that have not been processed and we need these results to know where we stand.” He adds that recent talk about reopening the country is premature.
Zevallos and Interior Minister María Paula Romo acknowledge the testing backlog but say existing results and hospital admission and discharge data provide reliable indicators of the spread and containment of the virus. Romo said Tuesday that as many as 40 percent of the tests taken have yet to be processed and that a large spike in case count can be expected soon. “We are confident that the restrictions we have placed on personal mobility as well as other measures are showing results and we don’t believe it is too early to begin planning to relax some restrictions in some areas of the country,” Romo says.
Zevallos agrees that the lack of testing poses major problems but says his office is gathering information from many sources, including from other countries. “At this point, we have a critical mass of data that is informing us and I am very comfortable with it. Yes, we will see a surge of new test results and they will appear alarming but these are tests dating back two to three weeks.”
Rodríguez insists that until the country tests 10 percent of the population, it lacks the knowledge to consider changes to lockdown restrictions. “Of the 27,000 tests administered, we are still waiting for results for more than 10,000,” he said. “We can only process 400 to 600 tests a day so you see the problem.”
The health ministry admits the bottleneck but says it hopes to process as many as 1,400 a day by next week. “There is no denying that getting results has been a problem but we have received more reagents this week and that will increase the processing of tests.”
Rodríguez also worries that a lack of testing of those without symptoms creates statistical inaccuracies. “By some estimates, 50 percent of those infected with Covid-19 are asymptomatic and show no effects at all. It is important that we test not only the sick people but healthy people as well to get a better idea of the full spread of the virus.”
Romo said Wednesday that the situation in Guayaquil and Guayas Province, which have 70 percent of the country’s cases, has to be considered separately from the rest of the country. “What’s happening there is tragic and alarming but it’s important to keep it in perspective,” she said. “We are working around the clock there to take care of patients and to gather information so we have a better understanding of what has happened and continues to happen.”
Fatality rate rises to 4.9% of Covid cases
The health ministry reported Wednedsay that the total confirmed cases in Ecuador has risen to 7,858 with 388 deaths, putting the country’s fatality rate at 4.9 percent. For comparison purposes, the ministry noted that the fatality rate in Great Britain is 13 percent; in the U.S. 4.1 percent; in Italy 13.5 percent; and in China 4 percent.
48 test positive on Galapagos cruise ship
The Galapagos Emergency Operations Committee reports that 48 of 69 crew members on the Flora cruise ship have tested positive for the Covid-19 virus. The ship is currently docked at Baltra and the committee is considering options for treating and quarantining the crew. The committee also reports that there are 22 land-based cases in the islands, three on Isabela, 13 on Santa Cruz and six San Cristóbal.
PayPal Account for Cuenca Municipal Food Bank
The Cuenca Municipal Food Bank, administered by the Office of International Affairs has established a PayPal account for those who wish to donate. Go to www.paypal.me/bancoalimentos. The email address is email@example.com