It is not true that the health system is overwhelmed by new cases of the Covid-19 virus. The director of the Presidential Committee for Covid Response, Dr. Amado Alejandro Báez says still only 25% of country’s hospital beds have been set aside for Covid-19 patients. Of these 58% are in use, an increase after the start of the reopening of the economy in May.
In an interview with Mariasela Alvarez and Diana Lora for Esta Noche con Mariasela, Dr. Baez said hospital bed demand has increased in Greater Santo Domingo but this is not the situation elsewhere in the country. He said when the committee began its technical support for the management of the virus, an increase in hospital capacity was contemplated and new facilities are being integrated to the public system. He mentioned increased capacity at the Marcelino Velez, Ramon de Lara, police and military hospitals. He said as part of the capacity building efforts, new private centers are being integrated, too. Moreso, he said 1,100 health providers have been trained to provide telephone and online support to doctors in the provinces, so that these cases can be treated in the provinces.
He added that the increase in cases is also due to more PCR testing, and the local interventions as epidemiological teams that are combing the barrios to find cases and provide adequate care.
“The country and the capacity of the system are not on the verge of collapsing,” he stressed. “One thing is the situation in Santo Domingo and the National District, where a third of the population lives, and is the economic growth engine of the country,” he explained. He said the increase in case numbers are associated with the first two reopening phases. We anticipated the increase,” he said. 55% of the Covid-19 cases are concentrated in Greater Santo Domingo and nearby San Cristóbal province, another hotspot.
Moreso, Dr. Báez said the technical committee did not anticipate the way politics has affected the efforts to restrain the virus. Presidential elections are scheduled for 5 July 2020. He said this has created confusion. “The political narrative has been very complicated in the last few days,” he said. He said people are getting conflicting messages that are leading many to think there is no risk. He stressed the virus is for real. “But we are not on the verge of a collapse,” he made clear.
With the elections two weeks away, Dr. Baez urges Dominicans to extreme measures to prevent the spread of the disease today. “All Dominicans must go to vote on July 5th. It is a privilege to live in a democracy,” he remarked. He said the same basic protocols apply: Wear a face mask, keep physical distance, hand hygiene. He called for people to trust in what the committee has been doing. “What we are doing today, 12 to 13 days before the election, is what will have an impact on the 5th of July,” he said. He warned if people agglomerate on the streets, there is going to be a spike in cases.
The committee has recommended against advancing to Phase 3 of the reopening. Tourism was set to reopen in Phase 4. Dr. Báez said the decision to open the country to tourism is up to President Danilo Medina and Administrative Minister of the Presidency Jose Ramon Peralta. He acknowledged the tourism sector representatives have said the industry needs 45 days to restart to coordinate with tour operators and airlines. He says the industry has already submitted all the protocols for the opening.
Dr. Báez said he could only speak for himself. Yet, he said he favored ending the national state of emergency and letting the Public Health Law 21-18 provide the preventive and structural epidemiological controls. “If it allows for epidemiological and public health controls, then it is adequate,” he said. Recently Public Health Minister Rafael Sánchez Cárdenas cited the law when announcing fines would be applied to those not wearing face masks. The emergency state expires at the end of the month.
Furthermore, Dr. Báez said his personal opinion is that the country needs to focus on individual productive sectors and the different levels of risk these mean for the spread of the disease. “Instead of making big national decisions, we are going to have to be able to switch on and off, and make decisions by area and by province,” he commented. He favored local solutions, based on the epidemiological statistics of each area. He says there are going to be more cases as more people are tested. “We are actively looking for cases in the barrios, thus there will be an increase in cases,” he explained.
24 June 2020