Being in Ecuador During the COVID-19 Pandemic
April 4 2020: By: John Williams
Ecuador is about the physical size of Nevada or Colorado and has about 17.6 Million residents. The country is made up of 24 Provinces (ie States) and as of 4 April has 3,368 officially confirmed cases of COVID-19.
A recent news story from NPR that has been circulating Internationally on CNN and various national and international newspapers purports to show a horrible situation in the State of Guayas and is causing alarm among many friends and family regarding the situation and safety of the residents of Ecuador. This information is provided to give the situation some REAL perspective, from the perspective of one “on-the-ground” US Expat Resident of Ecuador.
The situation in the Province of Guayas (including the largest City of Guayaquil) is indeed horrific……in some areas. Of the 3,368 total number of confirmed cases in the entire Country of Ecuador, 2,388 (70%) are reported in the State of Guayas. The Country also reports 145 Deaths from COVID-19 of which 108 are reported from Guayas. For perspective, New York City has recently reported averages of about 200 deaths PER DAY, and that number is climbing rapidly with no end in sight.
The Country of Ecuador took early and decisive action to curb the growth of COVID-19, following WHO guidelines, and often exceeding even those.
About 20 days ago ALL International Flights in and out of Ecuador were stopped cold except for a few “special humanitarian“ flights from Europe, Canada and the USA to assist their stranded citizens in returning home from vacations and other short-term visits to Ecuador.
A few days later all intra-Ecuador flights were also cancelled. Not long after that ALL personal travel between Provinces was halted and even inter-city travel is severely restricted and limited only to transport of essential goods or documented emergency situations.
Basically EVERYONE in the country is quarantined in their residences. All non-essential businesses were ordered closed 18 days ago, as were any and all gatherings of ANY group of over 10 people. Now those are even prohibited.
There is a nationwide curfew that allows people to be outside their homes only between 05:00 hrs and 14:00 hrs and then ONLY to shop for essential needs ie groceries, food, pharmacy/medications, and work in essential services industries. Beaches, parks, ALL public places are closed and no one is allowed to be in them, even during non-curfew hours. “STAY AT HOME” is the rule! Only one person from each household is permitted to go out and shop for the household, and is required to wear a mask and gloves. When you walk into a store your gloved hands are sanitized by a worker, and so is your cart. The entrances and public areas, including roads and sidewalks are often being sanitized by government workers overnight. These restrictions are being enforced by the law enforcement agencies and, in some cases, the military. They are SERIOUS, and they should be! The availability of groceries, medications, gasoline, disinfecting agents etc is generally very good…… including plenty of toilet paper!
So what the hell is going on in those horrific news reports being shown about the situation in Guayas/Guayaquil? Guayas has about 3.5 Million People, and the City of Guayaquil has about 2.5 Million of those. Guayaquil is one of the two largest cities in Ecuador and is a major port city.
It is home to many of the most wealthy families in Ecuador and also some of the poorest. Shortly before many were really aware of the extent and dangerous nature of COVID-19 in the world, a member of a large family returned to Guayaquil from an extended stay in Italy (where things were starting to get pretty serious) and attended a large gathering of family and friends to welcome her home. I wasn’t there, of course, but I am sure kisses, hugs and close encounters were the order of the day!
Thus dozens of Guayaquil residents were infected and for the next couple of weeks unknowingly spread the killer far and wide in circles of friends, family members, acquaintances and workplaces. The cat was, so to speak, well out of the bag. Adding to that event, numerous Chinese workers on the Guayaquil shipping docks went “home” for the Chinese New Year celebrations and then returned to work on the docks, further assisting the COVID-19 killer in its march into and throughout Guayaquil and Guayas.
Make no mistake about it….The “system” ‘is overwhelmed in Guayas. And people are dying. As an unexpected byproduct of the government ordered shutdown of businesses, only 20 of the region’s 200 funeral parlors are open, and there are very limited crematorium facilities. Those that are open can’t get adequate supplies of caskets and other items because the people who make them can’t get necessary lumber and materials. Imagine a City that usually has enough “business” to support 200 Funeral parlors is now seeing a 200% increase in deaths with only 10% of their capabilities. THAT is what you are seeing on the news.
The military is now in control in Guayaquil and it is expected to get the “corpse” situation under better control, with refrigerator/freezer trucks being brought in and bodies taken care of. That will take some time and will help, but there is no doubt that the misery in Guayaquil will continue for some time. Hospitals and other medical facilities are overwhelmed, as is the food supply system.
There is plenty of food produced in Ecuador, but the poorest segments of the society have lost jobs and have no ability to buy food. Some still live in areas without electricity and running water. Food deliveries are coming, but that system is also under extreme strain and struggling to keep up with the need. Unfortunately this “system overload” scenario has and will continue to play out in many other places around the world that are unfortunate enough to have an uncontrolled virus storm hit places that are simply not equipped to handle the historic “never before seen” catastrophe from an invisible enemy.
Generally Ecuadorians, and Latin Americans help each other when in need, and neighborhoods, neighboring areas and countries are slowly coming to the aid of Guayas. It will recover……eventually…..but there will be plenty of real loss, pain and grief along that path. Plenty!
Generally in the rest of Ecuador the significant actions taken early have resulted in All Provinces other than Guayas having good success in limiting the growth of COVID-19, and the country is now entering the period (15+ days after mandated restrictions) where the growth of COVID-19 is expected to peak and begin its slow decline.
I live in Manabi province, which has a population of approximately 1.5 Million. I live in the little fishing/kiteboarding beach community of Santa Marianita, which is about a 15 minute drive from the City of Manta (population about 261,000). The population of Santa Marianita is included in the City of Manta population totals and public services are provided by the City of Manta.
The Province of Manabi reports 67 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with the City of Manta reporting 28 and City of Portoviejo reporting 27. Again……For perspective ….. The percentage of people in the Province of Manabi with a confirmed case is .01073% = about “1 in 10,000”. Now these “confirmed cases” are admittedly very low because of a significant lack of testing.
Ecuador has had relatively few tests available and is just receiving reasonable supplies of testing materials in the last few days, so these numbers are certainly not telling the whole story. That said, many experts say that the likely number of such cases is about 10X those being reported. Even if we multiply the number by 100X instead of 10X the result still shows that the likelihood of being infected in Manabi (and Manta) is approximately “1 in 100”.
Death rates are averaging about 1% of persons infected, but even if we double that rate for a conservative estimate, the chance of getting sick from, and then succumbing to the effects of COVID-19 in these areas would calculate to be about “1 in 5,000”. We feel pretty safe…….and a LOT safer than we would feel in the USA, which appears to be about 3 weeks behind Ecuador and all the other countries that took the pandemic seriously from the beginning and took early decisive action.
THAT is the PROVEN way to limit the COVID-19 killer. With the extremely rapid growth rate exhibited by COVID-19, 3 weeks is deadly, with the USA now predicting 100,000 – 240,000 deaths, and many believe that is the “very best” case scenario if drastic measures are taken immediately, but they certainly are NOT doing so even now in many, many places in the USA. As I write this the GOP President of the USA and the following 12 GOP Governors have still failed to enact mandatory “Stay At Home” requirements.
- Arkansas—GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson
- Alabama—GOP Gov. Kay Ivey
- Iowa—GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds
- Missouri—GOP Gov. Mike Parson
- Nebraska—GOP Gov. Pete Ricketts
- North Dakota—GOP Gov. Doug Burgum
- Oklahoma—GOP Gov. Kevin Stitt
- South Carolina—GOP Gov. Henry McMaster
- South Dakota—GOP Gov. Kristi Noem
- Texas—GOP Gov. Greg Abbott
- Utah—GOP Gov. Gary Herbert
- Wyoming—GOP Gov. Mark Gordon
Forecasts for COVID-19 growth rates in Ecuador, which have been reasonably accurate thus far, show an expectation that the “peak” of new cases should be achieved in the next few days (5 April – 10 April), largely because the country has been on a strict lockdown for almost three weeks.
The current “official” case count in Ecuador by province is :
- Guayas, 2,388;
- Pichincha, 285;
- Los Ríos, 138;
- Azuay, 99;
- Manabí, 67;
- El Oro, 56;
- Canar, 56;
- Santa Elena, 48;
- Loja, 27;
- Bolívar, 26;
- Chimborazo, 25;
- Imbabura, 18;
- Esmeraldas, 14;
- Cotopaxi and Tungurahua, 13 each;
- Galápagos, 19; Pastaza and Carchi, 9; Zamora Chinchipe, 2; Napo and Orellana, one case each.
Stay at Home…….Stay Safe……..Surviving is Winning.