Mexico Is Reopening After Quarantine. Many Worry It’s Too Early.
Packed street markets. Buzzing metro stations. Thronged sidewalks. And noticeably fewer people wearing masks.
Mexico is starting to bustle again as the country gradually reopens after a quarantine that hammered its economy. But many Mexicans, including medical experts, are worried the move has come too early, and will lead to more illness and death under a pandemic that has not been brought under control in Mexico and is surging across Latin America.
“Most people think from the government’s message that the worst is over,” said Dr. Francisco Moreno, who heads the Covid unit of ABC Medical Center, one of Mexico City’s top private hospitals.
“We are at the peak of the epidemic,” he added, explaining that the center is so full it has had to turn patients away, despite doubling its capacity in recent weeks.
Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has struggled to balance a response to the coronavirus with the economic needs of a country in which over half of the population lives hand-to-mouth, working informal jobs, without a safety net.
Early on, Mr. López Obrador played down the severity of the coronavirus’ threat, allowing soccer tournaments, concerts and preparations for the busy spring tourist season to continue even as neighboring countries shut down.
Once cases started to climb, in late March, a lockdown went into effect, but by April the president had declared the disease under control.
An analysis by The New York Times, however, later found that the Mexican government was not reporting the virus’s true toll.
This week, Mr. López Obrador marked the end of the quarantine by embarking on a six-state tour.
“We have to head toward the new normality because the national economy and the well-being of the people depends on it,“ he said during a stop in Cancún. “We need to little by little normalize social, economic and cultural activities. I repeat, carefully.”
Mexico’s coronavirus czar, Dr. Hugo López-Gatell, emphasized that the opening was gradual, limited to virus-free communities, the mining, construction and auto industries, and thousands of select businesses.
But the relaxation of restrictions comes at a moment when the disease appears to be peaking. On Wednesday, Mexico reported 1,092 deaths, its highest daily toll to date, though the López Obrador administration said the increase was caused by an administrative delay in reporting deaths. By Thursday, the total number of dead in the country was 12,545.
Experts warn the move to reopen could intensify the disease’s grip on the country.
A report released on May 12 by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington projected that Mexico could suffer up to 16,795 Covid-19 deaths by early August.
Dr. Rafael Lozano, one of the authors of the report, now says that prognosis is being revised for an expected spike in cases following the relaxation of restrictions, and could reach 43,000 to 51,000 deaths by the end of summer.
“It’s a very difficult prognosis, and it’s still growing,” Dr. Lozano said.
With many hospitals around Mexico City operating at full capacity, health officials questioned the system’s ability to keep working at this pace indefinitely.
“I’m concerned about burnout,” Dr. Moreno said. “The critical care nurses, the doctors, everybody is getting tired, and some people get sick because they are tired and don’t follow the protocol very well.”
Mexico’s front-line health care workers have been falling sick with Covid-19 at some of the highest rates in the world, with grave consequences for themselves and their patients.
Updated June 2, 2020
Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.
Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.
States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.
Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.
Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.
If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)
More than 40 million people — the equivalent of 1 in 4 U.S. workers — have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic took hold. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.
Taking one’s temperature to look for signs of fever is not as easy as it sounds, as “normal” temperature numbers can vary, but generally, keep an eye out for a temperature of 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. If you don’t have a thermometer (they can be pricey these days), there are other ways to figure out if you have a fever, or are at risk of Covid-19 complications.
The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.
If you’re sick and you think you’ve been exposed to the new coronavirus, the C.D.C. recommends that you call your healthcare provider and explain your symptoms and fears. They will decide if you need to be tested. Keep in mind that there’s a chance — because of a lack of testing kits or because you’re asymptomatic, for instance — you won’t be able to get tested.
Many local governments pushed back on the call to reopen, saying they felt safer waiting. In Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum, the mayor, said residents were still required to wear masks in public and announced the city would increase testing for Covid-19, including people who are asymptomatic.
Many Mexican officials fear that Mr. López Obrador’s message that the country should reopen with caution will be lost on the majority of a population eager to rush back to work.
Juan Hugo de la Rosa, the mayor of Nezahualcóyotl, a poor, densely populated suburb that’s been hard hit by the epidemic, said the movement of people in the streets has increased substantially since the easing of restrictions on June 1.
He would have preferred to delay reopening until after the peak of contagion, even if it meant more economic pain in the short term, he said.
“This situation will without a doubt prolong the duration of the epidemic and badly affect the economy of the families who live here,” said Mr. De la Rosa, who said most of the city’s 1.2 million residents worked informal jobs.
Juana Parada Flores, an Indigenous Mazahua who sells school supplies in a crowded Mexico City market, and who said her father died of Covid-19, called the return to normality “illogical.”
“It will just make the epidemic worse,” she said. “Because we’re all going to leave like crazy, out of necessity.”