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Is Cuenca going to fall back to a RED traffic light designation?

Published on June 09, 2020

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The Cuenca Dispatch is a subscription only website. 

If you enjoy this article, consider subscribing to gain access to weekly reports on Ecuador’s economics, politics, crime and more.

Does Cuenca need to go back to RED epidemiologic traffic signal?

That’s the question that was the focus of this Friday’s (June 5, 2020) Cantonal Emergency Operations Committee (COE).

The question arises as Cuenca (and Azuay province) both saw an elevated increase in its rate of new COVID-19 positive test (cases) over the last week.

This number, along with the rate of the increase of deaths, are the two factors the government is using to allow cantons to move from one epidemiological designation (i.e., Red, Yellow, Green) to another. Cantons (or provinces) must show a decrease in the rate of new positive tests and deaths for 2 weeks straight to be allowed to move to a lower level of restrictions.

What is less clear is whether these figures are also what the government will use to determine if a canton needs to move back to tighter restrictions. Presently, that decision is being left to the individual cantons to determine what the threshold will be for returning to a more restrictive designation.

Cuenca cases and deaths jump

Cuenca’s rate of increase of cases for the prior two weeks were 15% for the week ending May 24, 2020 and fell to 9% for the week ending May 31, 2020. However, that number jumped up this week ending June 6, 20202 to 17.84%.

One other concern for the COE this week was the increase in deaths in Cuenca. For almost three weeks, Cuenca reported no new deaths due to COVID-19. This week it reported three new deaths. This brings Azuay province’s number of deaths to 39, with 36 of them in-hospital deaths in Cuenca.

According to a report from the Zonal 6 Heath Coordinator, Julio Molina, Cuenca’s 3 new deaths came after almost three weeks of no new deaths. Despite the figures, Molina says the health system has not yet overflowed.

COE decides to stay at Yellow

The Cuenca COE decided to keep the city’s epidemiological traffic light at Yellow for the week of Monday June 8, 2020 to Sunday June 14, 2020.

So, why didn’t Cuenca drop back to a Red designation if there were increases in both of the indices used by the government to determine a canton’s epidemiological designation?

In response to its decision to keep Cuenca at a Yellow designation,the COE reported that the bigger concern now is the availability of intensive care unit (ICU) beds in the city, in the event there is a spike in the number of people requiring hospitalization.

Molina indicated that there has been a significant increase in cases of the virus in the city, but he insists that the number of intensive care beds continues to be adequate to meet the need.

“It is undeniable, people are circulating and that increases the risk of contagion,” says Molina.

“Demand has also increased in the critically ill area, but this has not caused intensive care areas to overflow.” As of last Friday, Cuenca had 27 critically ill patients, a figure that fluctuates as people requiring intensive care constantly enter and leave the ICU area.

Last week, the Vicente Corral Moscoso hospital had up to 14 critically ill patients being treated in the 18-bed ICU at any given time.Also last week, the José Carrasco Arteaga hospital of the Ecuadorian Social Security Institute (IESS) reported that its ICU occupancy rates fluctuated between 85 and 95%.

Caution ahead

Reporting on the COE decision, Cuenca Mayor Pedro Palacios said that “although the health system has been strengthened in the face of the pandemic, it is necessary to continue strengthening it, given that the reactivation of the different sectors affected the increase in emergencies, which lead to an increase of problems for the sector.”

Palacios added that the city is also working on carrying out COVID-19 tests on citizens, workers in public and private companies, merchants and servers working during the emergency.

“We have worked tirelessly in the revision of all the protocols and proposals of the commercial sectors and activities in general; roads, vehicles, markets, offices have been fumigated and personal protective equipment has been delivered to vulnerable groups, hospitals,”said Palacios.

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