MEXICO CITY A gray Suzuki stopped outside the General Hospital of Mexico and deposited a heaving Victor Bailn at the entrance. He had refused to come to the hospital for days, convinced that doctors were killing coronavirus patients. By the time he hobbled into the triage area and collapsed on the floor, it was too late.
Papito, breathe! his wife screamed. Please breathe.
Within an hour, Mr. Bailn was dead.
Mexico is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world, with more than 52,000 confirmed deaths, the third-highest toll of the pandemic. And its struggle has been made even harder by a pervasive phenomenon: a deeply rooted fear of hospitals.
The problem has long plagued nations overwhelmed by unfamiliar diseases. During the Ebola epidemic in 2014, many in Sierra Leone believed that hospitals had become hopeless death traps, leading sick people to stay home and inadvertently spread the disease to their families and neighbors.
Here in Mexico, a similar vicious cycle is taking place. As the pandemic crushes an already weak health care system, with bodies piling up in refrigerated trucks, many Mexicans see the Covid ward as a place where only death awaits to be avoided at all cost.
The consequences, doctors, nurses and health ministers say, are severe. Mexicans are waiting to seek medical care until their cases are so bad that doctors can do little to help them. Thousands are dying before ever seeing the inside of a hospital, government data show, succumbing to the virus in taxis on the way there or in sickbeds at home.
Fighting infections at home may not only spread the disease more widely, epidemiologists say, but it also hides the true toll of the epidemic because an untold number of people die without ever being tested and officially counted as coronavirus victims.
Many Mexicans say they have good reason to be wary of hospitals: Nearly 40 percent of people hospitalized with confirmed cases of the virus in Mexico City, the epicenter of the nations outbreak, end up dying, government data show, a high mortality rate even when compared with some of the worst coronavirus hot spots worldwide. During the peak of the pandemic in New York City, less than 25 percent of coronavirus patients died in hospitals, studies have estimated.
While the statistic may be imprecise because of limited testing, doctors and researchers confirmed that a startling number of people are dying in Mexicos hospitals.
During a surge of cases in May, almost half of all Covid-19 deaths in Mexico City hospitals occurred within 12 hours of the patients being admitted, said Dr. Oliva Lpez Arellano, Mexico Citys health minister.
In the United States, people who died typically made it five days in the hospital.
Doctors say more patients would survive if they sought help earlier. Delaying treatment, they argue, simply leads to more deaths in hospitals which then generates even more fear of hospitals.
The distrust is so pronounced that relatives of patients in Ecatepec, a municipality outside Mexico City, stormed a hospital in May, attacking its employees, filming themselves next to bags of corpses and telling reporters that the institution was killing their loved ones.
After seeing videos of what happens to people inside hospitals, screw that, said Mr. Bailns brother, Jos Eduardo, who had recently spent 60 days at home recovering from his own bout with what he believes was the coronavirus. Id rather stay home and die there.
But many people who die at home in Mexico or even on the way to the hospital are never tested for the virus, so they are not counted as coronavirus victims. Instead, they fall into a statistical black hole of fatalities that are not officially tied to the pandemic.
Even by the official count, Mexico has already suffered more coronavirus deaths than any other nation but the United States and Brazil. And the government said recently that during a period of over three months this spring, there were 71,000 more deaths than expected, compared with previous years an indication that the virus has claimed many more lives than the official tally suggests.
Adding to the confusion, political leaders here, as in many countries, have sown doubts about the virus and the need to seek medical care. The hugely popular president, Andrs Manuel Lpez Obrador, said he uses religious amulets and his clean conscience to protect against the coronavirus, and he has advocated fighting the pandemic at home, with the help of families, rather than in hospitals.
Nearly 70 percent of Mexicans said they would feel unsafe taking their loved ones to the hospital during the pandemic, in a survey published last month. A third said they would prefer to care for their relatives themselves.
Now the nations top health officials have begun pleading with Mexicans to stop resisting medical care.
Its very important that late care doesnt contribute to death, Hugo Lpez-Gatell, the health official leading the countrys response to the virus, said at a news conference last month. Please, go to hospitals early, especially people who are most at risk.
Many are wary of the costs that come with a hospital stay. And in a country plagued by rampant government corruption, the fundamental distrust of the authorities often extends to doctors and nurses in public hospitals.
At the General Hospital in Mexico City, where Mr. Bailn died, suspicion was running high. No one had wanted to come to the hospital, a place that seemed to swallow their loved ones and leave them outside, with few updates to calm the nerves. Everyone had a theory about the real cause of the virus and the destruction it had unleashed.
Modesto Gmez, whose wife was inside, heard the government was letting elderly people die of the virus because they had expensive pensions. Hctor Mauricio Ortega, whose father was intubated there with a Covid infection, said he believed doctors were purposely infecting people with the virus because countries have a quota of people who need to die every year.
Ral Prez woke up in a panic on the benches outside the entrance. It was his 16th day sleeping there after his sister went in for brain surgery.
He said he had met seven families of patients who had come in for another illness and then died of the coronavirus.
Updated August 6, 2020
People think maybe theyre injecting them with something or killing them in there, he said.
Mr. Prez didnt believe the rumors at first, but then doctors told him that his sister, who was still intubated after her brain surgery, had tested positive for coronavirus. Now he was frantic, calling all of his relatives, telling them the hospital wanted his sister dead.
They are letting people get infected, he said. They just want to get rid of one more patient.
Dr. Lpez, Mexico Citys health minister, said that rumors of malicious medical practices had been widespread. Doctors were supposedly stealing the fluid from peoples knees, or trading their fingerprint data gleaned from oximeter readings.
There was a big fake news campaign spreading rumors that health workers were attacking people inside hospitals, profiting from their death, she said.
Dr. Ernesto Nepomuceno said that in his clinic in Iztapalapa, a poor neighborhood in Mexico City, doctors perform oximeter readings on themselves to show patients that they are measuring oxygen levels, not recording personal data.
We have to make great efforts to put people at ease, Dr. Nepomuceno said.
Two days before Mr. Bailn was wheeled into the General Hospitals intensive care unit, he visited a doctor in his tiny hometown an hour outside the capital. His oxygen levels were low, but he begged his wife, Fabiola Palma Rodrguez, not to drive him to the hospital.
Please dont take me there, I dont want to die, she recalled him telling her. By the time Mr. Bailn relented, he was already ravaged by the disease.
After a local hospital turned him away, he made the trip to Mexico City. He died on a stretcher in the General Hospital, Ms. Palma said, before doctors could intubate him.
I would have taken him earlier, but we were both too scared, Ms. Palma said. It is so unfair. I took him there alive and brought him back home dead the same day.
Aurora Arzate Nieves died on the same day as Mr. Bailn, in the same hospital, about 30 hours after being admitted. The matriarch of a tightly knit Mexican family, Ms. Arzate, 83, was known for her green mole dish and strong will. Her sons practically had to drag her to the hospital.
That decision was tormenting Eduardo Gutirrez Arzate as he said a final goodbye to his mother, who was zipped into a bag inside a Ford minivan converted into a hearse by a funeral company near the hospital.
Pawing at the window, Mr. Gutirrez begged his mother to wake up.
I felt really guilty when I saw her, he said, standing outside the crematory, black smoke billowing overhead.
She was scared of everything having to do with the coronavirus and of hospitals, where shed be surrounded by depressed people, instead of by her family.
I asked her in that moment to forgive me, he said. I asked her to forgive me for taking her to the hospital.
Follow this link:
- Trump Embraces Fringe Theories on Protests and the Coronavirus - The New York Times - August 31st, 2020
- Elites are flouting coronavirus restrictions -- and that could hurt us all - CNN - August 31st, 2020
- Governor Cuomo Announces New Record High Number of COVID-19 Tests Reported to New York State - ny.gov - August 31st, 2020
- How Italy's 'father of the swabs' fought the coronavirus - Science Magazine - August 31st, 2020
- Alaska coronavirus Q&A: How are people here getting COVID-19? And what's the deal with testing numbers? - Anchorage Daily News - August 31st, 2020
- Coronavirus news of the week (VIDEO) - Live Science - August 31st, 2020
- A case of coronavirus reinfection shows the complexities of the pandemic - The Verge - August 31st, 2020
- New drool-based tests are replacing the dreaded coronavirus nasal swab - Science Magazine - August 31st, 2020
- How Minnesota's biggest beef producer is weathering the coronavirus - Minneapolis Star Tribune - August 31st, 2020
- When the Threat of Eviction Meets the Threat of Coronavirus - The New York Times - August 31st, 2020
- Coronavirus worries force election officials to get creative - Wink News - August 31st, 2020
- This Trawlers Haul: Evidence That Antibodies Block the Coronavirus - The New York Times - August 20th, 2020
- Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today - The New York Times - August 20th, 2020
- NIH imposes 'outrageous' conditions on resuming coronavirus grant targeted by Trump - Science Magazine - August 20th, 2020
- What you need to know about coronavirus on Wednesday, August 19 - CNN - August 20th, 2020
- Coronavirus updates: University of North Carolina temporarily suspends fall sports; Pope warns against the rich getting vaccine first - USA TODAY - August 20th, 2020
- If New Zealand's Covid-19 outbreak is 'terrible' like Trump says, then how bad is the rest of the world? - CNN - August 20th, 2020
- Faster test results and 'robust' immune response may offer hope of curbing the pandemic, experts say - CNN - August 20th, 2020
- Why Pooled Testing for the Coronavirus Isn't Working - The New York Times - August 20th, 2020
- Coronavirus outbreak linked to wedding reception in Maine - CNN - August 20th, 2020
- COVID-19 UPDATE: Gov. Justice hosts Dr. Deborah Birx, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, to discuss West Virginia virus response - West... - August 20th, 2020
- COVID-19 Daily Update 8-19-2020 - West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources - August 20th, 2020
- A person with Covid-19 may have exposed others at a bar during Sturgis motorcycle rally - CNN - August 20th, 2020
- White House focus on oleandrin treatment for coronavirus would be 'nonsense,' experts say - CNN - August 20th, 2020
- August 19 evening update: The latest on the coronavirus and Maine - Bangor Daily News - August 20th, 2020
- Masks blunt the spread of coronavirus but not all are created equal - The Guardian - August 20th, 2020
- Opinion: There is a safe, healthy path forward from the ravages of the coronavirus - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - August 20th, 2020
- Few signs of collective mourning as the US tops 170,000 coronavirus deaths - CNN - August 20th, 2020
- Coronavirus is spreading in schools, but the federal government isn't keeping count - NBC News - August 20th, 2020
- Researchers hope this old-fashioned treatment will work for coronavirus - CNN - August 20th, 2020
- Older Children and the Coronavirus: A New Wrinkle in the Debate - The New York Times - August 20th, 2020
- Here's what's behind all those backlogged coronavirus cases across Texas - The Dallas Morning News - August 20th, 2020
- Potential Rising Income Streams and Equity Retirement Solutions - Dividend.com - August 10th, 2020
- Millions of America's working poor may lose out on key anti-poverty tax credit because of the pandemic - Chicago Reporter - August 10th, 2020
- Ive Witnessed the Decline of the Republican Party - The Atlantic - August 10th, 2020
- Pyxis Tankers Announces Financial Results for the Three and Six Months Ended June 30, 2020 - GlobeNewswire - August 10th, 2020
- Coronavirus live updates: 97,000 kids tested positive the last two weeks of July; college football faces decision time on fall season - USA TODAY - August 10th, 2020
- Breaking down the executive actions Trump signed on coronavirus relief - CNN - August 10th, 2020
- Brazil Reaches Milestone of More Than 100,000 Covid-19 Deaths and 3 Million Cases - The New York Times - August 10th, 2020
- Looking Beyond The Coronavirus Numbers As Plans Are Put In Place For Returning To School, Restaurants Face Restrictions - CBS Pittsburgh - August 10th, 2020
- August 9 update: The latest on the coronavirus and Maine - Bangor Daily News - August 10th, 2020
- Black and Hispanic children are impacted more severely by coronavirus, research shows - CNN - August 10th, 2020
- Why the Coronavirus Is More Likely to Superspread Than the Flu - The New York Times - August 10th, 2020
- Japan's coronavirus fatigue is fueling defiance in Tokyo, even as the case count rises - CNN - August 10th, 2020
- Hours of Talks on U.S. Coronavirus Relief End With No Deal - The New York Times - August 10th, 2020
- Nation hits 5 million coronavirus cases with few signs of slowing - NBC News - August 10th, 2020
- What you need to know about coronavirus Monday, Aug. 10 - KING5.com - August 10th, 2020
- Farm Workers Harvest Crops With Few Protections From The Coronavirus : Shots - Health News - NPR - August 10th, 2020
- COVID-19 Daily Update 8-9-2020 - West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources - August 10th, 2020
- Coronavirus updates: Trump's executive order on unemployment could take months to implement; hundreds quarantining in Ga. school district - USA TODAY - August 10th, 2020
- Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine tests positive for coronavirus -- and then tests negative on second test - CNN - August 10th, 2020
- Inside the federal prison where three out of every four inmates have tested positive for coronavirus - CNN - August 10th, 2020
- Global deaths surpass 700,000; Vietnam reports further rise of infections - CNBC - August 10th, 2020
- Trump administration steps in as advocacy groups warn of Covid 'death panels' - POLITICO - August 10th, 2020
- Europe's biggest countries are seeing Covid surges -- but not this one - CNN - August 10th, 2020
- More than 97,000 children tested positive for Covid-19 in the last two weeks of July, report says - CNN - August 10th, 2020
- Study: 14 Face Masks, Here Are The Best, Worst For Covid-19 Coronavirus - Forbes - August 10th, 2020
- Coronavirus testing: How it works, why Utah's tests are down, and what's coming next? - Salt Lake Tribune - August 10th, 2020
- Your Hot-Weather Guide to Coronavirus, Air-Conditioning and Airflow - The New York Times - August 10th, 2020
- How San Francisco succeeded more than other U.S. cities in fighting the coronavirus - CNBC - August 10th, 2020
- 17 new coronavirus cases have been reported in Maine - Bangor Daily News - August 9th, 2020
- Everything you need to know about coronavirus in Arizona Aug. 9 - 12news.com KPNX - August 9th, 2020
- Coronavirus in N.Y.C.: Heres What Happened This Week - The New York Times - August 9th, 2020
- What you need to know about coronavirus Sunday, Aug. 9 - KING5.com - August 9th, 2020
- How fast is the coronavirus spreading (or not) in Philadelphia? Check this chart - Billy Penn - August 9th, 2020
- Coronavirus Live Updates: Latest News and Analysis - The New York Times - August 8th, 2020
- Americans are moving around too much and taking coronavirus with them, expert says - CNN - August 8th, 2020
- Fact Check: Will there be a coronavirus vaccine by November? - CNN - August 8th, 2020
- One man with coronavirus attending Ohio church service led to infection of 91 others - NBC News - August 8th, 2020
- What you need to know about coronavirus on Friday, August 7 - CNN - August 8th, 2020
- With Old Allies Turning Against Her, Birx Presses On Against the Coronavirus - The New York Times - August 8th, 2020
- Trump singles out Texas and Florida for help with coronavirus response - CNN - August 8th, 2020
- This Week in Coronavirus: July 31 to August 6 - Kaiser Family Foundation - August 8th, 2020
- St. Louis Cardinals have another series postponed because of positive coronavirus tests - CNN - August 8th, 2020
- At Europes Illegal Parties, Coronavirus Is the Last Thing on Anyones Mind - The New York Times - August 8th, 2020
- The Roach Unit is the only Texas prison reporting zero coronavirus cases - The Texas Tribune - August 8th, 2020
- Coronavirus in Oregon: 423 new infections and 9 deaths - oregonlive.com - August 8th, 2020
- Suspension Lifted of Georgia Student Who Posted Photos of Crowded Hall - The New York Times - August 8th, 2020
- 20 new coronavirus cases have been reported in Maine - Bangor Daily News - August 8th, 2020
- Saying goodbye to dying wife likely cost 90-year-old 'Romeo' his life. He had no regrets, family says. - USA TODAY - August 8th, 2020