News & Politics

Mexican Nightmare: Coronavirus Deaths Far Higher Than Government Admitted

Mexico's President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador acknowledges the crowd at a rally commemorating the 50th anniversary of a bloody reprisal against students, at the Tlatelolco Plaza in Mexico City, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. Lopez Obrador vowed Saturday to never use military force against civilians. Troops fired on a peaceful demonstration at the plaza on Oct. 2, 1968, killing as many as 300 people at a time when leftist student movements were taking root throughout Latin America. (AP Photo/Christian Palma)

If any Americans want to see a “failed response” to the coronavirus pandemic, they don’t have far to look.

Health officials in Mexico City have been begging the government for weeks to reveal the true toll the coronavirus is taking on the city. But government officials refuse to acknowledge the massive extent of the crisis, as the “Mexican Dr. Fauci” — the “public face” of the crisis — assures the people that everything is fine. “We have flattened the curve,” said Hugo Lopez-Gatell, the health ministry official used as a frontman by the government. He’s apparently become something of a celebrity on TV.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on the true nature of the nightmare that is gripping the country.

Only 0.4 of every 1,000 people in Mexico are tested for the virus — by far the lowest of the dozens of nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which average about 23 tests for every 1,000 people.

The government says Mexico has been faring better than many of the world’s largest countries, and on Monday its COVID-19 czar estimated that the final death toll would be around 6,000 people.

With so few tests being done, it’s impossible to get a handle on the scope of the problem.

“It’s like we doctors are living in two different worlds, ” said Dr. Giovanna Avila, who works at Hospital de Especialidades Belisario Domínguez. “One is inside of the hospital with patients dying all the time. And the other is when we walk out onto the streets and see people walking around, clueless of what is going on and how bad the situation really is.”

Mexico City officials have tabulated more than 2,500 deaths from the virus and serious respiratory illnesses that doctors suspect are related to COVID-19, the data reviewed by The Times shows. Yet the federal government is reporting about 700 in the area, which includes Mexico City and the municipalities on its outskirts.

Nationwide, the federal government has reported about 3,000 confirmed deaths from the virus, plus nearly 250 suspected of being related, in a country of more than 120 million people. But experts say Mexico has only a minimal sense of the real scale of the epidemic because it is testing so few people.

The hospitals are death traps, with people lying on floors and sitting in chairs because there are no beds.

In Tijuana, hospitals are already overwhelmed. Doctors and nurses across the country have held public protests against the lack of protective gear, and several hospitals along the border have suffered outbreaks of the virus among medical personnel. Federal officials have been scrambling to buy respirators, long after seeing the outbreaks grip China, Europe and the United States.

One big reason for the competing death tolls in Mexico has to do with way the federal government is testing, vetting and reporting the data. The official results include a two-week lag, people familiar with the process say, which means timely information is not available publicly.

This is what the U.S. could have seen without early and concentrated action by the government. There are always going to be politically-motivated attacks on the administration for not acting “soon enough” or mishandling one aspect or another of testing, PPE supplies, or respirators. In a nation of 330 million people, we’re looking at a response involving tens of thousands of federal, state, and local employees along with thousands of more volunteers. The undertaking staggers the mind.

And it should have been a well-oiled machine, ready to spring into action at the first sign of trouble? That’s what Democrats would have you believe.

The administration’s response wasn’t perfect because people aren’t perfect. There were snafus. There was some incompetence that slowed things down — as well as some first-class, ingenious thinking that sped things along.

I understand the need by Democrats to politicize and demonize, but what’s the media’s excuse? I have yet to hear any attempt to explain what I outlined above — that the sheer scale of the response meant that it wouldn’t be humanly possible to be perfect from the start.

Is that really too much to ask?

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