COVID-19: The Excess of Hundreds of Deaths in Puerto Rico Has Not Been Investigated by the Government

Atypical death trends during the pandemic have gone unnoticed, but expert analysis begins to identify the keys as to why they occurred and what lessons they hold for the immediate future. By Omaya Sosa Pascual and Jeniffer Wiscovitch | Center for Investigative Journalism

Six months after the government reported the arrival of COVID-19 in Puerto Rico, more than 600 people have officially died from the disease but, in addition, hundreds have died from other causes that have gone unnoticed and that could be directly or indirectly linked to the pandemic. These excess deaths have been masked in the total mortality figure due to the sharp drop that has been registered in deaths due to crimes, accidents, and trauma on the island. The Department of Health (DS, in Spanish) has been using so far the monthly death toll number on the island to monitor the status of COVID-19, without detailing the significant changes in deaths from specific causes. These deaths, identified as deaths in excess of those that regularly occur in Puerto Rico, happened mainly during the period of the initial strict lockdown that the government of Puerto Rico implemented between March and April, and were focused on chronic conditions that have been associated as high risk for the virus, according to an investigation by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) that included mortality data and interviews with more than a dozen experts.

COVID-19: Exceso de cientos de muertes en Puerto Rico no ha sido investigado por el Gobierno

Las muertes por encima de lo usual durante el periodo de la pandemia han pasado desapercibidas, pero el análisis de expertos comienza a identificar las claves de por qué fallecieron y qué lecciones para el futuro inmediato nos dejan esos decesos. Por Omaya Sosa Pascual y Jeniffer Wiscovitch | Centro de Periodismo Investigativo

A seis meses de que el Gobierno informara de la llegada de COVID-19 a Puerto Rico, han muerto más de 600 personas oficialmente por la enfermedad, pero además han fallecido cientos por otras causas que han pasado desapercibidas y que podrían estar vinculadas directa o indirectamente a la pandemia. Estas muertes en exceso han estado enmascaradas en la cifra total de mortalidad debido a la fuerte baja que se ha registrado en fallecimientos por crímenes, accidentes y traumas en la Isla. El total mensual de muertes en el país ha sido la cifra que el Departamento de Salud (DS) ha utilizado hasta el momento públicamente para monitorear el estado de situación de COVID-19, sin detallar los cambios significativos en fallecimientos por causas específicas. Estos decesos, identificados como muertes en exceso a las que regularmente se producen en Puerto Rico, ocurrieron principalmente durante el periodo del estricto lockdown inicial implementado por el Gobierno de Puerto Rico entre marzo y abril, y se concentraron en condiciones crónicas que han sido asociadas como de alto riesgo ante el virus, según una investigación del Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (CPI) que incluyó datos de mortalidad y entrevistas a más de una decena de expertos.

The Reasons for the Limited Number of Molecular Tests in Puerto Rico

Finding molecular tests that confirm a COVID-19 diagnosis in Puerto Rico is currently quite challenging, and the government restricts who has access to them. One of the reasons is the lack of materials such as reagents, the chemicals necessary to detect the coronavirus. “All reference labs have a need for reagents,” said Ilia Toledo, president of the Toledo Clinical Laboratory, one of the largest in Puerto Rico. In addition, the 200 members of the Association of Clinical Laboratories face problems getting swabs for sampling, its President Juan Rexach confirmed. The standard justification given for the lack of swabs, transport vials, and chemical reagents — all necessary to administer and process these tests — is fierce competition for these supplies throughout the U.S. and around the world.

Caribbean Public Education Systems Adrift Due to the Coronavirus

Within days from each other, public education systems in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Cuba suspended classes in schools in March this year to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. With no time, tools or defined public policies to lay down strategies that would somehow ensure and measure student participation and progress, distance learning had predictable results. The structural deficiencies of the education systems, the social inequality experienced by students and teachers, the digital gap, and the absence of processes for the participation of school communities in the design of educational plans, are unsolved dilemmas for back to school, amid the latent threat of COVID-19. “We hardly learned anything,” said a 13-year-old Puerto Rican student about the abrupt change in his learning process since classes were suspended. Another young boy, 14, recalled how difficult it was to adopt a study routine with his younger sister and mother: “I’m a Special Education student and we’re used to a certain pace and support.”

Rapid tests and false negatives: Puerto Rico and Peru’s strategies to defeat COVID-19

On April 26, Peruvian citizen Miriam Grace presented the first symptoms of COVID-19: sore throat, coupled with cough and fever. Warning bells went off when, on May 2, her sister María del Carmen, her nephew Santiago and niece Antonella also showed their first symptoms that went from nausea and vomiting to loss of taste and smell, according to official reports from the Peru Ministry of Health and the interviews that the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI in Spanish) and Ojo Público conducted with the family. On May 4, Miriam’s father, Juan Francisco, and María del Carmen fell ill with a recurring cough, and on Saturday, May 9, the virus claimed the only victim in that family, who lived in the same home in the Piura region, north of Peru. Edith, who was the family matriarch, died at home due to a COVID-19 infection, her death certificate confirmed. In response to this death, personnel from the Peru Ministry of Health went to Edith’s home to perform a rapid antibody test on the five people who had direct contact with her during the last days of her life.

Pruebas rápidas y falsos negativos: las estrategias de Puerto Rico y Perú frente al COVID-19

El último 26 de abril, la ciudadana peruana Miriam Grace presentó los primeros síntomas de COVID-19: dolor de garganta, acompañada de tos y fiebre. La alerta se encendió cuando, el 2 de mayo, su hermana María del Carmen y sus sobrinos Santiago y Antonella también registraron sus primeros síntomas, que iban desde las náuseas y vómitos hasta la pérdida del gusto y del olfato, según los informes oficiales del Ministerio de Salud del Perú y las entrevistas que el Centro de Periodismo Investigativo y Ojo Público realizaron a la familia. El 4 de mayo, Juan Francisco, padre de Miriam y María del Carmen, cayó enfermo con una tos recurrente, y el sábado, 9 de ese mes, el virus cobró la única víctima mortal de esta familia, que compartía un mismo hogar en la región de Piura, al norte del Perú. Edith, quien era la matriarca de esta familia piurana, falleció en su casa a causa de una infección por COVID-19, según el certificado de defunción. A causa de este deceso, el Ministerio de Salud de Perú acudió al hogar de Edith para realizar una prueba rápida de anticuerpos a las cinco personas que tuvieron contacto directo con ella durante los últimos días de su vida.

Sin rumbo los sistemas de educación pública en el Caribe ante el coronavirus

Las deficiencias estructurales de los sistemas de enseñanza, la desigualdad social entre estudiantes y maestros, la brecha digital y la ausencia de procesos que integraran a las comunidades escolares en el diseño de los planes educativos, son dilemas no resueltos de cara al regreso a clases, sin que la amenaza de contagio por COVID-19 se haya disipado.