CoVid-19 and Martial Law while sheltering in place in Antigua, Guatemala

Okay, so we all have a little bit of downtime so long as we are not deemed “essential personnel.” I figure I’d catch up on a couple of blogs. I remember once upon a time, not that long ago we were those essential personnel. We were responding to blazing fires, people looting in the streets, evacuating burning homes and essentially trying our best to keep people at a safe distance from the things that were going to potentially kill them. Saving people’s lives is what we’ve trained for, what we do and for a while, what defined us. This is what essential personnel do we help sustain life. As we go about our daily lives, let’s just remember that there are those people out there whose life calling is to help people. We are those people and for our entire professional careers, we were those people; putting our lives on the line so you could continue to live yours so you could continue to go home to your families every night and feel secure. Right now, none of us have that. It doesn’t matter where you are, or where you’re from or what you do as a profession. None of us are “immune” (as far as we know anyway) to what belies us at this very moment in time.

Unfortunately, all the wonky shit that’s been happening is really forcing home the importance of family, education, skills and COMMUNICATION. When we don’t communicate, relationships break down. Many of you might be feeling that very angst right now because you are all sitting at home trying to find things to do to occupy your time. We don’t watch a bunch of TV, we don’t even own one. I can’t remember the last time I watched TV other than the other night while watching the President of Guatemala deliver his country lock-down press conference. We sometimes will “Netflix and chill” but that’s pretty impossible here in Guatemala with the awful internet speeds that we have in this country. The phone service is great, 4g LTE speeds. However, the actual broadband through the ISP’s is horrible. It’s so bad in fact, we have to use our Skyroam Solis X, from the car with the WiFi booster to be able to stream anything at all. Now that EVERYONE is home in the complex for the next month, the speeds are even slower.

So, let me tell you a little bit of how things have been going so far since we’ve been “locked down” in Guatemala.

First off, it’s not been too bad. We had our first confirmed case of CoVid-19 in the country on March 13 a young man from Quiche (he had arrived on March 12) who was returning home after visiting Italy. He was symptomatic on arrival and was immediately quarantined at Villa Nueva hospital. The second confirmed case on the same day was an elderly man who had flown from back to Guatemala after visiting Italy and Spain so says the news media here. When he arrived, he was already symptomatic and was also quarantined at the hospital in Villa Nueva upon arrival. I’m not sure if they quarantined everyone from the flight arriving from Italy, but on the very next day after confirming two cases, there were already over 300 people in quarantine in the hospital in Villa Nueva and all schools across the country were immediately closed for a minimum of 3 weeks. And BAM- just like that, mandatory homeschool (we’re overachievers). For the rest of the week, up until March 20, we slowly watched as the rate of infection was spreading. Nothing like in the US, China or Italy, but nonetheless, the number of cases were growing between 2-3 each day. The president closed all the borders, grounded all flights in and out of the country, shut down all public transportation with the exception of a few private charters and in an unprecedented move within a week had declared martial law.

Martial Law… Many of you must be thinking how awful it must be to be under martial law. Right now, honestly, it’s not too bad. There are rules and regulations to follow, if you follow them, you’re fine. If you choose to disregard, you get arrested and held for 7 days. Simple as that. No questions asked. This is a Global Emergency and it is the government’s job to protect its people. I think President Giammetti is doing a damn good job. Look at what’s happening in the USA right now. It’s mass chaos. People buying shit they DON’T EVEN NEED, just in case they might. They are depleting the store shelves of basic essential items that other vulnerable families need. I have quite a few friends whose children have cancer and are currently under treatment. They can’t even find disinfecting wipes to clean their homes. No bleach, no toilet paper, no gloves no masks. They have to isolate their children and themselves already, and now the things they use in order to be able to spend just a smidgeon of time with their sick children are gone. Taken by others that still “need” to go out in public in complete and total disregard to the people they will eventually infect even if they don’t get super sick themselves. I understand the need, I do. I have a box of gloves, I have 2 masks per person in my family. I use these things when we have to go to the store to buy things. The stores here are lining people up outside. If you don’t have a mask, you don’t enter. They have armed guards at the doors and they are making sure people are sanitizing their hands as soon as they walk in. They are providing disinfecting wipes to wipe down the carts and baskets. They have boxes on the floor to show how far you need to stand behind the person in front of you at the check-out line. They closed all borders, schools and non-essential services the Monday following the first confirmed case. Food is take-out only.

The president turned an old building into a new hospital specifically to house any infected or suspected CoVid-19 cases. 315 beds with 45 ICU beds. The largest in Central America. I just hope they have enough personnel to cover it. All the stores have sold out of face masks, but there are Pharmacies that are still selling them and some people at the Mercado are still selling them too. The curfew hours are 4 am to 4 pm. Anyone out after 4 pm is arrested and held for 7 days. I don’t know if they are putting them in quarantine for 7 days or just holding them in jail. The president has given the government 2 weeks to build 4 more hospitals throughout the country in the more underdeveloped areas where they don’t have access to hospitals.

In 11 days, our total confirmed cases in the entire country of Guatemala is 21. I sat down to do the math, if I did the math correctly and comparatively, California has roughly 37.3 million people, Guatemala has 15.5 million. There are as of right this moment, 2365 cases of CoVid-19 in California, which is .00000634% of the total population of California. If I took that same percent to Guatemala, we should have 983 cases of CoVid-19. So, if you think declaring Martial law doesn’t work and being proactive to protect the people, just look at the numbers. Guatemala doesn’t have a super great health care system. If the system gets overrun, the majority of the people here will probably die. The president (also a physician) has done a fantastic job at listening to the PROFESSIONALS and making decisions based on his own knowledge and expertise as a physician. He has been able to stave off the majority of illness, and we should be seeing a spike here in the next two weeks. In the same time frame, the US went from 36 cases on the first day of confirmed infection to 179 in 11 days. That means the first 11 days of the virus in the US were seeing an average of 16.27 new cases per day. Guatemala is at 1.9 new cases per day. For a state that is 4 times the size and has nearly 1/3 more population in a first world country, I would imagine that we shouldn’t see our cases rising 8 times faster than Guatemala. Am I wrong? I understand that there is more information out about how the virus is spread and how contagious it is, but we knew about it, our government chose not to listen to the experts and did nothing about it until it was too late. Now, and only now, schools across the nation are closing, business are closing, non-essential personnel are being told to stay home. Why did it take so long?

There are plenty of foreigners here trying to figure out how to get home. They feel like their embassies should be talking to the government here and try repatriate. The Guatemalan government isn’t restricting them from leaving. First and foremost, let’s just get that straight. The airport is closed, but the border to Mexico for outgoing foreigners is open. The Belize border for exiting foreigners is open. They are open only for those foreigners wishing to return to their home country. From there, any foreigner can fly home. The government isn’t going to pay for it. The Guatemalan government would rather these foreigners stay put and stay alive rather than risk going home and either becoming infected or infecting someone else. Ethically, it’s the right thing to do. Besides missing your family, barring exigent circumstance, why would you want to put anyone at risk? Are you considered “essential personnel?” If not, you’re going to be doing the same thing at home that you are here. Sheltering in place. Someone has to leave their home to pick you up from the airport, right? Have you seen the spread of CV? It started at all major airports and ports of entry, and you want to go back there? You want to wait in line through customs where no less than 12 people handled your bags? Coughed on your bags, sneezed on your bags? Didn’t wash their hands? You want to stand in line with hundreds, possible thousands of other people who just came back or are still on spring break that have been partying on the beaches of who the fuck knows where while infecting each other but aren’t symptomatic right this second? You want to risk that? I sometimes want to go home too. My mom is a very high risk category and she works in a hospital with patient contact every day. I worry about her every day. Am I willing to risk carrying this virus home to infect her just because I’m worried about her? No. Absolutely not. Her health is more important than me being there with her right now.

Guatemala is a poor country. Anyone who tells you differently is lying. The people here rely mostly on tourism to get food on their tables and to pay for their children to attend school. It is a privilege to go to school here, not a right and not mandatory after 2nd grade. This shutdown severely impacts the people who live here, but you know what? They would rather stay home and live another day than have to go out and risk their lives and the lives of the rest of their families (most of them all live together or in very close proximity and span generations). We as Americans are too selfish, have too much debt, have too much pride and are afraid to lose. Well, this is a wake up call. Everyone loses sometime. I really hope whoever reads this was paying attention last time the market tanked. Things are about to get a whole lot worse. This Pandemic just brought it to the forefront faster than our government wanted. We are overleveraged, the government dropped trillions of dollars into the sinking stock market to boost it up and give the people of the economy false hope. People are going to lose jobs, people are going to lose their businesses, when you can’t pay bills, you lose the things you don’t OWN. Who wins in all of this? The Banks. The banks that are bailing out our businesses in the form of low interest and deferred payment loans. Loans that Businesses can’t afford to pay back because they aren’t able to make money because nobody can work. Do you get it yet? This is the cycle. Our government is running out of options. Pull your heads out of your asses people. We have been living in dystopia for far too long and have gotten used to a lifestyle that was destined to fail. It might not fail right away, but when it does, will you be ready?

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