Approximately three in 10 Mexicans cannot access information about the spread of Covid-19 in the area where they live because four states and Mexico City don’t publish any local-level data about infections.
An investigation by the news website Quinto Elemento Lab (QEL) found that the governments of México state, Querétaro, Tlaxcala and Yucatán are not revealing data about coronavirus outbreaks at the municipal level, while the government of Mexico City is not providing statistics for any of the capital’s 16 boroughs.
More than 33 million people, or almost 30% of Mexico’s population, live in the five federal entities that are not disclosing any municipal-level statistics.
The governments say that publishing information such as the number of confirmed and suspected cases of Covid-19, the death toll, hospitalization rates and the sex and age of those infected at a local level could violate patients’ privacy, lead to discrimination against them and cause panic among residents.
However, via a review of the websites of state governments and their health ministries as well as their official social media accounts, QEL found that all of the other 27 federal entities in Mexico do provide at least some information about coronavirus outbreaks at a municipal level.
In the case of México state – which currently has the second highest number of both confirmed Covid-19 cases and deaths after Mexico City – health officials have said that only state-level statistics are published in order to avoid panic among residents in municipalities with large outbreaks.
In Querétaro, Health Services Director Martina Pérez Rendón said that the state government decided not to disclose coronavirus data for each municipality in order to avoid discrimination and acts of aggression against infected people and their families. However, she added that the government could decide to publish municipal-level data as the number of cases in the state grows.
Querétaro had recorded 65 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Tuesday and four deaths, according to data from the federal Health Ministry.
The authorities in Tlaxcala – where there are 51 confirmed cases – said that they don’t publish the location of infections because doing so could place people’s privacy at risk.
A health official in Mexico City – which has more than 1,500 confirmed cases – said that information for each borough is not published because people from other states are being treated for coronavirus in the capital, meaning that the data could be distorted.
While the Yucatán government doesn’t offer any data about Covid-19 infection rates at a municipal level, one positive note is that it provides information about the disease and social distancing recommendations in both Spanish and Maya. The state had 116 confirmed cases as of Tuesday.
The lack of detailed data about localized coronavirus outbreaks could place lives at risk, according to Michael Bess, a researcher at Mexico City’s Center for Economic Research and Teaching and a member of the university’s coronavirus data tracking team.
“As we have seen in the whole world, access to information is one of the best ways to combat this disease, … we have to know where the biggest clusters are,” he said.
Among the 27 states that do provide at least some information, Guanajuato is the most transparent, according to the QEL investigation, followed by Aguascalientes, Veracruz, Tamaulipas and Coahuila.
To rank the states in terms of transparency, QEL took a range of factors into account including how often data is updated, how detailed it is and how easy it is to find.
Since the beginning of the Covid-9 epidemic in Mexico, the Guanajuato government has reported both confirmed and suspected Covid-19 cases in each of the state’s 46 municipalities on a government website.
It also provides data on deaths at a municipal level and details the number of people who have recovered from the disease. In addition, the government offers a daily epidemiological report with detailed information about Covid-19 patients and the hospitals treating them.
A spokesperson for the Guanajuato Health Ministry said that as a result of being well-informed, residents have offered financial support to hospitals in affected municipalities and made donations to them.
The government of Aguascalientes and Veracruz have also created websites where they provide detailed information about the coronavirus outbreak at a municipal level. Officials in both states said that the data allows people to be better informed and helps them to protect themselves against infection.
QEL‘s transparency ranking table and information about what each state is doing to inform citizens about coronavirus in the municipality where they live can be accessed by clicking here (Spanish only).
One reason why there is so much discrepancy between the states in terms of the information they offer is that the federal Health Ministry has not issued any guidelines about what data should be published.
QEL said that the federal government itself has been circumspect in revealing detailed information about localized coronavirus outbreaks, noting that the Health Ministry’s general director of health promotion suggested that people wouldn’t take the pandemic seriously if they knew that their local area wasn’t overly affected.
“If half of the deaths are in Tingüindín, Michoacán, people in Mexico City will say: ‘I’m not in Tingüindín, my risk is less,” Ricardo Cortés said in late March.
Mexico News Daily