COVID cases rising in El Salvador
In an acknowledgment that El Salvador is experiencing an upsurge in COVID-19 cases, the government has imposed a 90 day suspension on gatherings of people in sporting events, concerts, rallies and municipal festivals. The municipal government in San Salvador then immediately announced the suspension of activities for the first week of August in the city’s patron saint celebrations.
For the moment, bars, restaurants, religious services and public transportations are unaffected by the new measures. The Ministry of Culture announced that public museums, theaters and exhibition spaces would also be closed for the next 90 days. The Catholic hierarchy announced the cessation of processions and festivities, but scheduled masses will continue with masses and social distancing.
Schools are still being held in a hybrid in-person plus virtual fashion, although parents have the option to be entirely virtual. Because of localized outbreaks of the virus, 19 schools are presently not holding in person sessions.
The 90 day measures come a little more than two weeks before the August fiestas, the week of August vacations when Salvadorans gather at beaches, bars and tourist sites.
Government data on its official site at COVID19.gob.sv shows a growing number of reported daily cases coming from the roughly 2500 Covid tests which the ministry of health processes each day. The positive test rate has recently hit almost 10%, a rate not seen since last January on the downside of the second wave of cases in the country. The number of “active” cases reached a peak not seen since last September.
The government has not confirmed the presence of the infamous Delta variant in the country, despite its presence in surrounding nations in Central America.
The government also announced the reduction of the eligibility age for vaccinations to 18 and its goal to increase vaccinations from roughly 40,000 per day to 70,000 per day. The country has ample stocks of vaccine on hand as it receives shipments from the US, Pfizer and China.
As of July 14, the government reported that 1.29 million people are fully vaccinated and 2.1 million people have received at least a first dose of vaccine. Thus less than 1/3 of adults are fully vaccinated at this point, leaving millions still at risk in this small, densely populated country of 6.5 million. The government does not release data on vaccination rates according to age group or according to geographic area making it difficult to know whether vulnerable groups are being reached by the vaccine program.
The government attempts to limit information about case loads and mortality in its flagship COVID facility, Hospital El Salvador. A report in mid June cited sources within the hospital saying that all of its intensive care beds were filled and the hospital was converting intermediate care beds for intensive care. Doctors cited in a report in El Mundo said that private hospitals are full to overflowing with COVID patients with potential shortages of drugs for treatment.
The rise in cases in El Salvador should be put in perspective by contrasting with its neighbors in Central America. Even with the limited data sharing in El Salvador, it is still clear that the country is faring better than Guatemala and Honduras which have much lower levels of vaccination and are experiencing surges in coronavirus cases threatening their health systems.
El Salvador’s president Nayib Bukele claims that his country has managed the pandemic better than anyone else in the region. This third wave of Covid cases will put that claim to the test.