October is on track to be the second worst month of the pandemic for new cases of the coronavirus. But the increase in cases this month is not due to a new outbreak of the virus, according to experts who spoke to the newspaper El Universal.
The federal Health Ministry reported 137,559 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the first 23 days of October for an average daily tally of 5,980.
If the same average is maintained during the final eight days of this month, there will be a total of 185,380 new cases in October.
That would be the second highest monthly total of new cases since July, when the Health Ministry reported 198,548.
Compared to September, when 143,656 cases were reported – just 6,097 more than the current October total – the average daily case tally is up 25% this month. October’s accumulated tally has already exceeded that of June when health authorities reported 135,425 new cases.
Covid-19 deaths have also increased compared to last month. Health authorities reported 10,666 fatalities in the first 23 days of October for an average daily death toll of 463. The average is 5% higher than in September.
If the same average number of daily reported deaths continues for the remainder of the month, there will be 14,353 Covid-19 fatalities in October, which would be the fourth highest total after July (18,919), June (17,839) and August (17,726).
According to a teacher and analyst at the National Institute of Public Health, the increase in new cases this month is not attributable to a new outbreak of the coronavirus.
“To use the term ‘new outbreak’ is a mistake because the reality is the country never brought the [epidemic] curve down,” said Carolina Gómez Vinales. “Yes, there was a reduction in cases but it wasn’t enough” to keep infection levels down, she said.
Gómez said she believes that the increase in case numbers in October – Mexico’s accumulated tally is now approaching 900,000 – is the result of the relaxation of coronavirus mitigation measures and the failure by many people to follow social distancing recommendations.
“It appears that people have lost their fear of the disease; the streets are full, there is traffic similar to that before the [March to May] national social distancing initiative, there are people in restaurants, in [town] squares, in public places,” she said.
“We mustn’t forget that we’re in a pandemic, that this isn’t over and if we don’t take care of ourselves it won’t end.”
Alejandro Macías, an infectious disease doctor and member of the coronavirus commission at the National Autonomous University (UNAM), also said that the October increase is not indicative of a new outbreak.
“The increase in the incidence rate … simply corresponds to an uptick [in the current outbreak] because a new outbreak is the reappearance of a disease after control has been achieved,” he said.
Macías acknowledged that control of the virus hasn’t occurred in large parts of Mexico and therefore the increase in new case numbers is not attributable to a new wave of the pandemic.
The doctor, who headed up the government’s response to the 2009 swine flu pandemic, echoed the calls of many experts in saying that authorities need to insist on the use of face masks to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, noting that “there is scientific evidence” that they work.
Macías also urged the government to pay attention to the positivity rate (the percentage of Covid-19 tests that come back positive) in addition to case numbers and hospitalizations, asserting that it is a key indicator of the intensity of the pandemic.
Mexico’s positivity rate is currently just over 40%, a figure that is extremely high compared to many other countries. The rate is elevated because most testing here is targeted at people with serious, coronavirus-like symptoms.
María Luisa Ponce López, a UNAM academic and public health expert, urged people to follow health measures to help slow the spread of the virus. In addition to wearing face masks, she recommended that people refrain from speaking while using public transit to reduce the probability of droplet transmission.
Ponce said the government should only consider issuing a new stay-at-home order as a last resort because of the social and economic ramifications a lockdown would have.
“Reordering a lockdown is an extreme measure; it can’t be ruled out, … other countries are doing it, but stopping economic and social activities can generate problems,” she said.
The academic added that many people would be unlikely to respect a new stay-at-home order because, in addition to the economic need of going out to work, people are “exhausted” with the pandemic and associated restrictions.
“That’s why it’s better to highlight the need to wash your hands, … avoid crowded places and use a face mask if you go out,” she said.
Source: El Universal (sp)