Monday, July 13, 2020

Current conditions in Guatemala

I originally published this June 15.  Now, almost a month later, the situation is more serious.  Last week our numbers averaged over 1000 new cases daily, which may not seem like a lot, but, since we are the size of Kentucky, I think that would give you a frame of reference.  The last couple of days we have seen our numbers go down, but are still running between 750 and 900 new cases daily.  Last night another doctor died.  

Our department (county) is the second highest in the country in terms of incidence of new cases.  While we are one of the most populous areas, it is apparent that many here are not taking precautions seriously, especially in the municipal market.  I have managed to avoid going there as the small store next door to me will pick up whatever I need.  

We still have "lock down" on Sunday, which which will now begin at 2 pm and go until 5 am Monday.  Yesterday, however, I saw quite a bit of movement in our streets.  People are tired of staying home and getting restless.  When they do go out, they comply by wearing masks, but these masks are often under their chin.  Until someone you know dies from this, it doesn't seem real to many people.

My friend Daryl wrote this a month ago describing the collapse of our medical system.  If anything, it is worse now.  Those of you in the US can't imagine having patients sleeping on the floor in the corridors, but that is now common place here.  Medications are given sporadically, not for lack of concern, but because the meds are not available.  Situations in private hospitals are better, but few except the most wealthy can afford private care and must rely on the free national healthcare system.

We have been providing surgical masks to our local hospital.  It isn't much but masks, even inadequate ones, are the first line of defense for health care workers.  Can you imagine, medical staff, needing to beg for the most basic supplies, and yet continuing to come to work?  That is what we see daily.  Please pray for Guatemala, and especially those in the health care field who are valiantly fighting under impossible conditions to give what they know to be inadequate care because they have no other options.

Daryl writes:

This is our second straight weekend without complete lockdown of the country. Prior to that, no one was allowed out of their homes from 6pm Friday until 5am Monday. They are opening select city bus systems this weekend for the first time since early March, but chicken buses are still not permitted. A curfew remains in effect every night from 6pm until 5am. Many businesses are still prohibited from opening, but in lots of regions they are ignoring the orders. Masks are still required, and failure to wear one can result in a substantial fine.

In spite of months of restrictions, the cases of the virus continue to spike, averaging over 300 a day and usually between 15 and 25 deaths. Yesterday we had 421 new cases and 17 deaths. There is a scramble now to keep the national hospital system from collapsing. The most critical cases are sent to Roosevelt and San Juan de Dios in Guatemala City, with the less severe cases sent to temporary hospitals. 

The previously pathetic ICUs are completely overwhelmed, and they have no where near the number of respirators needed. The respiratory therapists working with the more severe cases are threatening to walk out unless they receive more protective equipment and more help, as they are overwhelmed and working long hours. The government is prioritizing supplies for the above named hospitals, but that means the other hospitals are being shorted while also receiving additional non-virus cases that are redirected from the other hospitals that are treating the Covid 19 patients. In addition, local health centers are being shorted on both staffing and supplies.

Meanwhile, because of the crowded conditions in the hospitals, they have announced that families who have a loved one die only have six hours to make arrangements to remove the body, or the government will dispose of it. The problem is that, due to the hospitals being overwhelmed and inefficient, some families are not receiving calls at all, and their loved ones are buried before they know.

We are encountering many families with sick relatives, but they are afraid to go to the hospital lest they catch the virus. As a result, we will never know the true death toll of this illness from both direct and indirect cause.

So, we continue to keep our heads down and serve, one day at a time. This is not a time for the church to argue and complain. It is a time to shine in the darkness. Please pray that we are faithful in reflecting our world’s only Hope: Jesus. Thanks.

We have partnered with Love Guatemala Canada to provide supplies and encouragement to our local national hospital, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to the great need.  Please pray for our health care workers, as they are overwhelmed, under equipped and tired.  In some villages, doctors and nurses are impeded from returning to their own homes because the townspeople fear they will bring the virus with them.  Unfortunately, this has been the case in some areas, including the town where 3 of our workers come from. 

Line to get into banks here, which are normal, have grown to unreasonable lengths, making a simple withdrawal take up to an hour or more.  There are lines to enter grocery stores, since only a limited number can enter at one time.  There are lines to get gas, and lines to enter towns and cities.  All of which, coupled with the strict curfews, creates a lot of impatience and frustration.

An update based on the President's address last night is that we are now only allowed to drive our vehicles 2-3 days a week for the next two weeks, based on our license plate numbers.  Travel outside our department (think country) is prohibited and many towns are closing their entrances to those who do not live there.  

Saturday I was advised that the factory next door to our men's house has been closed because 19 workers have been identified as having the virus.  It now literally is at our front door.  The residents have been "sheltered in place" since this began, but this is putting new challenges before us in terms of bringing in supplies and food.  Our small village is not closed down, but the folks are scared.  People continue to come to the door for food, and we have packs prepared that we can give them with minimum contact.  

But this is hard.  Our work is intensely relational, and it is difficult to build and maintain relationships when you cannot have contact.  Unfortunately this is necessary for the safety of all involved, but again, it is hard.

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