More than half a million deaths and almost 15 million cases of COVID-19 in America: PAHO

By UN Mexico | September 17, 2020 at 08:52

The American continent reached two worrisome milestones in the last week: surpassing half a million deaths and reaching almost 15 million cases, said the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) this Wednesday. With several elections on the horizon, Carissa Etienne asked countries to be prepared so that citizens can exercise their right to vote without sacrificing their right to health.

As the countries reopen their societies, the countries need to implement a series of measures to minimize transmission and adapt the spaces to be as safe as possible, said the Director of PAHO.

The reopening of the societies before the health systems are ready "would mean risking that a handful of cases in one area unleash a large outbreak," said the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Carissa. F. Etienne, during a virtual press conference.

“As leaders around the world face pressure to resume social and public life, it is important that they avoid making decisions on the air. Data on the spread of the virus and the state of health systems and services should guide each country's reopening plans, including the combination of preventive measures that must continue to keep people safe, ”Etienne said. "If our health systems are not ready, this is not the time to reopen," he said.

In addition, he indicated that adjusting individual behavior, adapting spaces and exercising political leadership are key to making transportation, workplaces, schools and public spaces offer the greatest possible security for all.

The Americas reached two grim milestones this week, Etienne said: more than half a million deaths and nearly 15 million reported cases in the region. "Countless people in our Region remain vulnerable to infection, especially some large populations that have not yet been exposed," he warned.

Minimize spread during reopening

Regarding minimizing transmission as countries reopen, “whether it is restarting classes in schools, reopening public markets or resuming international travel, when and how we do it is important,” he said. “Countries must ensure they have the personnel, tools and resources to monitor and contain the virus. They must be prepared to conduct tests, locate contacts, isolate and quarantine, and make sure there are enough hospital beds available to care for patients who develop severe symptoms, ”he stressed.

People must be responsible and maintain a safe distance from others, a proven measure to limit the spread of COVID-19, Etienne said, and public spaces must also adapt to reduce transmission. “Some simple measures like offering stations to wash or sanitize hands; modify the distribution and schedules to allow physical distancing; and limiting the number of people in the same space at the same time should be the norm for now, "he said.

“In closed spaces, we must ensure adequate ventilation and limit close contact between us. We must also continue to maintain our distance outdoors, ”advised the Director of PAHO.

Laboratory tests for travelers: limited impact

As for travel, he said, relying on laboratory tests for travelers "is an expensive measure, difficult to implement and of limited impact in controlling the international spread of the virus." In that sense, he recommended ensuring “that people who are sick or suspect that they are sick with COVID-19 and their contacts are detected and isolated quickly to minimize the chances of other people becoming infected, mainly before departure and after the arrival".

Noting that some countries are preparing to hold elections, Etienne considered that careful planning was needed to ensure that the protocols respond to the need to prevent the spread of the virus, while helping citizens to "exercise their right to vote without sacrificing their right to health ”.

"Governments must lead national efforts to ensure that public health measures are in place for voting in person, and that citizens are aware of what they must do to keep their safety and that of others at the polls," he said.

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Photo: CINU Mexico / Alexis Aubin