The coronavirus situation in Mexico City continues to worsen with hospitals coming under increasing pressure, while crowds of residents throng the capital’s streets.
Mexico City authorities reported 4,459 new cases on Thursday – 40% of the total registered nationwide – and 88 additional Covid-19 fatalities, increasing the capital’s accumulated case tally to 219,465 and the death toll to 17,916.
Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said Friday that the number of hospitalized coronavirus patients increased by 285 over the past week. Mexico City government data updated Thursday night shows that there are 2,993 coronavirus patients in general care hospital beds and 923 in beds with ventilators.
On paper there are still plenty of beds available across the city’s health system – occupancy is below 70% – but some Covid-designated hospitals are already filled to the brim if not overflowing with patients.
One such facility is the Ajusco Medio hospital, a city-run facility in the southern borough of Tlalpan. The Associated Press reported that numbers on a whiteboard of hospital director Dr. Alejandro Avalos indicate that total patient numbers are at 122% capacity, intensive care is at 116%, and the emergency unit at 100%.
“We haven’t been below 100% since May,” Avalos told AP.
Hospital occupancy in Mexico City reached its highest level of the pandemic in May but Dr. Marta Patricia Mancilla, head of the emergency department at Ajusco Medio, believes that peak will soon be exceeded.
“The worst is still to come and unfortunately, it is going to catch us very tired,” she said.
Health workers at the IMSS La Raza General Hospital in the capital’s north are also under intense pressure. The situation is so trying that a group of doctors and nurses last week signed an open letter threatening to stop treating coronavirus patients unless authorities declared a partial lockdown in the capital.
“If it was bad in May, now it’s worse,” one doctor who signed the letter told AP. He explained that there are fewer doctors working at the hospital because they have become sick or taken leave because of the fear of contracting Covid-19 and the intense work environment they face.
He also said that there is short supply of anesthesia medications needed to intubate gravely ill coronavirus patients and keep them on ventilators.
Federal authorities have taken note of the growing pressure on hospitals in the capital, leading President López Obrador to announce Friday that 500 additional intensive care beds will be installed in the capital next week.
He also urged citizens to stop flooding the streets and stay at home rather than gathering with family and friends as is common in the lead-up to Christmas.
“In this month, December, there are traffic problems, there are growing numbers of vehicles in the streets,” López Obrador said. “Right now, we cannot act like this.”
Many parts of Mexico City appear virtually as busy now as before the coronavirus was first detected here at the end of February. The historic center of the capital throngs daily with shoppers, street vendors and even strollers and tourists. Many bars and cantinas that were supposed to close two weeks ago continue to welcome drinkers, apparently passing themselves off as restaurants rather than watering holes. Many establishments flout capacity restrictions, seemingly with impunity.
While a majority of residents of the capital wear face masks, which are supposedly mandatory, a sizable proportion of the population do not. In Mexico City’s poorer districts, the number of those who eschew face coverings is even higher.
With case numbers and hospitalizations on the rise, there was speculation that Mexico City would regress to red light “maximum” risk on the federal government’s coronavirus stoplight system, which would go at least some way to satisfying the health workers’ plea for a partial lockdown.
But Mayor Sheinbaum announced Friday that the capital would once again remain at the orange light “high” risk level next week, although she reiterated that an additional “alert” is in place due to the city’s close proximity to red.
The Mexico City government has tightened some restrictions in recent weeks despite remaining at the orange light level, and Sheinbaum, who contracted the virus herself in October, said that some new steps will be taken next week to try to slow the spread of the virus.
She said authorities will once again urge residents of the capital to stay at home and only go out if they really need to.
An intensive media campaign will be rolled out to warn residents of the increased risk of infection while city government offices will be reduced to a skeleton staff and all other workers will be strongly encouraged to work from home if they can.
Sheinbaum also said there will be stronger enforcement of health rules at commercial establishments and that Covid-19 testing, which was ramped up last month, will increase even further.
Meanwhile, Mexico’s national coronavirus case tally and death toll continue to rise at a concerning pace. The Health Ministry reported an additional 11,030 cases on Thursday, the third highest single-day tally of the pandemic after Wednesday and last Friday. The accumulated case tally now stands at 1,144,643.
Health authorities also reported 608 additional Covid-19 fatalities, lifting the official death toll to 108,173.
Both the case tally and death toll are widely believed to be much higher due to the low testing rate.
Federal authorities have faced strong criticism for not testing more widely, not advocating forcefully for the use of face masks and never implementing a strict lockdown. But López Obrador has defended the government’s response to the pandemic, describing the federal pandemic strategy as “very good.”
He has ruled out any possibility of a strict lockdown, saying Wednesday that leaders who impose lockdowns or curfews are acting like dictators.
Strict measures on people’s movement are “fashionable among authorities … who want to show they are heavy-handed,” López Obrador said. “A lot of them are letting their authoritarian instincts show. … The fundamental thing is to guarantee liberty.”