True toll of COVID-19 cases in Santiago Atitlán unknown due to lack of testing

A visitor to the idyllic streets of Santiago could easily be deceived by the almost normal appearance of town. The market is open and the streets are bustling with people. Although masks are mandatory in Guatemala, the pastor of one of Atitlán’s largest churches preached that masks were unnecessary, until the recent death of several members and one of his pastors, beloved artist Nicolas Reanda. Recently Guatemala changed to a nationwide 9PM curfew, but municipal enforcement has been minimal and many have begun to gather in the evening ignoring earlier curfews.  The Atitlán cemetery was closed this year for Day of the Dead, from October. 31st to November 3rd, to limi spread of the coronavirus.

This illusion of a return to normalcy comes at a dangerous time, with cases in Guatemala growing by nearly one thousand each day. Currently there have been 122,774 positive cases and 4,178 fatalities.

Thus far, Santiago has 101 official positive COVID-19 cases. However, local statistics show a 350% increase in deaths in Santiago Atitlán during the last week of September. Deaths are reported, but families are in denial that it was coronavirus and blame age, diabetes or hypertension.

Many positive cases in the town are thought to be hiding in their homes, afraid of being tested and taken to the collapsed national hospitals. Government mandate for all deaths require burial within four hours. People who sought care in the covid hospitals and died were buried in Guatemala City or Quetzaltenango, a culturally unacceptable situation.  

Despite limited funds and reduced staff, we have fought to keep the emergency room open 24/7 and provide outpatient clinic services in general medicine, pediatrics, orthopedics, OB/GYN and dentistry by appointment only.