DATELINE April 25, 2020, Medellín, Colombia.
It’s day 41 of mandatory quarantine here in Colombia. A day in our COVID-19 world looks something like this: Wake up early because you went to bed early the night before. Put on the coffee and read for a bit. Feed and walk the dogs around 7. Do our exercises and have breakfast. Work all morning, have lunch, walk the dogs. Work all afternoon, read emails and catch up on online news. Watch the BBC and Colombian TV news, have dinner, walk the dogs. Then watch something on Netflix or Prime until we both fall asleep. Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat, punctuated by two exciting trips to the grocery store every week. It’s Groundhog Day, Medellín-style!
If that sounds like a whine, it’s anything but. There’s something really calming about this routine, because we know it’s keeping us safe. And it keeps us centered, with so much uncertainty swirling around.
COVID-19 cases are still on the rise here in Colombia.
As of today, Colombia has 4,881 documented cases and 225 deaths – a far cry from our first COVID-19 World post back on March 21. It doesn’t seem that long ago that there were only 196 cases and no deaths.
In our province of Antioquia, we’d gone for weeks with only a single fatality. But this week two more joined the list: an 88-year-old lady in Medellín and a 67-year-old man in nearby Bello. May they rest in peace and their families find solace.
We’ve been thinking about testing and numbers lately.
Are the official numbers accurate, and what do they really mean? Yesterday the Colombia took its biggest single-day jump yet: 320 new cases (source: Colombia INS website). One explanation is that testing is finally accelerating here after hitting quite a few snags. But the death rate is staying relatively low and steady, which we hope means that the curve is staying flat. Another less agreeable explanation is that deaths that should be in the COVID-19 tally aren’t being counted there (as has been the case in New York until recently).
Another interesting figure we’ve been tracking is the percentage of positive results coming back from the testing and how we stack up against other countries. As of today, Colombia is at a 5.8% positive rate, impressively far below many other countries including one of our nearest neighbors (and our former home), Panama. But again, is this something to crow about? Will that percentage go up as testing keeps accelerating? What does it say about the sampling – is it really representative of the population or the people most likely to have been exposed? So many questions.
Here in Antioquia, the numbers (if you can trust them) still seem encouraging. Three deaths is still super-low for a province of over 4 million people. And according to the chart at the left, only 21 people are in hospital (with 11 in intensive care). There are a bunch of hospitals in the city, so that seems well below the bed capacity. And the yellow curve – the people who have recovered and left the hospital – is 137. That tracks roughly with the national figure of recovereds, which is about a fourth of total cases. That doesn’t seem too bad.
Colombia, like many other countries, is starting to reopen some sectors of the economy.
With testing not nearly at the level it should be here, that prospect makes us nervous. This Monday, April 27, construction and manufacturing workers will be allowed to return to work. That’s about half a million people who will join 300,00 others who have been out and working in “essential” sectors such as healthcare and food provision since the beginning. In other words, a lot of people will be in circulation.
The general quarantine is expected to be lifted by May 11, but that remains to be seen. People over 70 will be required to quarantine until June 1, and schools won’t reopen until September. And resumption of international flights? We’ve heard possibly July, but it’s anyone’s guess.
It’s been shocking to see the stories from around the COVID-19 world, particularly in the U.S., of people protesting quarantine measures and demanding to be allowed to return to their jobs and “normal” lives. It’s really easy for us to pass judgement, since John’s retired and I have a job I can do from home. We know it must be terrible for people who are struggling to make ends meet and feed their families, especially with a government response that has been – shall we say – lacking. But we see dudes parading around with huge guns, and people complaining about not being able to go to the park, or the beach, or the hair salon. All we can do is quote New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, when asked about the economic cost of quarantine measures: “The cost of the virus is death, which is worse.” So people, just STAY HOME. It’s not forever.
Enough numbers! Here’s some fun stuff.
We’ve had the honor of being featured in a Colombian newspaper and a couple of other blog posts recently. Here’s our story from The City Paper, an English-language publication out of Bogota:
This week, the blog 43 Blue Doors included us in a montage of videos from their friends and other bloggers around the world. I think it’s safe to say we’re not up for a video Oscar! But it was fun to do.
And just yesterday, our friend Sue Slaght of the sumptuous travel blog Travel Tales of Life included our story along with those from people in Asia and England:
Finally, here’s the latest Some Good News episode from John Krasinski. Spoiler alert: it’s out of this world!