Through seventeen months of the COVID pandemic in Peru, the country (and the world) has endured changes unlike anything that has been experienced in our lifetime.
Seventeen months of off and on lockdowns, closed international land borders, constantly changing restrictions on travel, and universal mask requirements have become part of life here. While the measures have sometimes been seeming illogical, the overall effectiveness of the government’s science-based policies and actions in a situation that no one was prepared for have largely been successful. This stands in stark contrast to the anti-mask, anti-vaccine mostly foreign contingent who spread misinformation based on YouTube videos and social media posts shared by uneducated people who are making money off the ignorance of others. They contribute to the deaths of people who don’t have to die, yet they continue even as write this and I fully expect more trolling from them.
The data reported by Peru’s Ministry of Health (Minsa) is clear about how things are improving. While I haven’t been to those places where compliance was an issue a year or more ago resulting in tremendous hardship, I have seen that nearly everyone in Cusco and parts of Lima (including some rougher neighborhoods) are seeing near universal compliance with mask wearing with vaccines being applied as fast as they become available. (A great many tourists in Cusco continue to ignore the law and disrespect Peru and Peruvians.)
POSITIVITY RATES OF COVID TESTING
The best measure of how COVID is spreading across the country is not the number of cases. (That number is based solely on the amount of testing.) The best way to view how prevalent the virus is across Peru is by looking at how many people are found to be positive after being tested.
The best way to understand positivity rates is to think of testing as throwing a fishing net into a lake. The positivity rate (%) tells you how many trout you pull in with each throw. If the percentage is high, then that indicates there’s a lot of trout in the lake. If it’s low, then there’s likely few trout there.
Peru has seen the positivity rate over the past 8 days drop below 3% — one of the lowest rates in the world. (The latest number for the US was 11.5% despite availability for everyone in the country over 11 to be vaccinated. In the state of Texas, where I’m from, that number is 18.3%.)
All of this comes despite the presence of the more virulent Delta variant in the country for more than two months.
While there has been a very slight rise in COVID hospitalizations in recent days, the steady decline for months has been solid and corresponds exactly to the vaccination program advances beginning with the oldest Peruvians months ago. (These are those most likely to endure the most serious symptoms of COVID.)
After a long time of hospital ICU units operating at almost full capacity, the number of people in ICU units is also seeing a slow, but very steady decline. These are the people who generally suffer from the most devastating long-term challenges so the speed of the drop in cases is not a surprise. The good thing is that is a continual decline.
Another area of great improvement has been the number of COVID-related deaths. This number has dropped precipitously indicating many lives being saved. The decline, as that of every other data category, corresponds perfectly with the application of vaccines across Peru.
Compared to the frightening high number of daily deaths just four months ago, this drop is extremely welcome news as far fewer families are losing loved ones.
COVID IN CUSCO
Things are also improving where I live in Cusco. The lack of enforcement of mask rules by police in the region against tourists and foreign residents who arrogantly flaunt their disrespect is hugely disappointing, but I have seen a little more push back on Peruvian social media and local news. A larger police presence has clearly been visible in recent days in the central historical district, but that could also be in response to the growing political unrest.
While the positivity rate of COVID testing in the Cusco region is quite high compared to the rest of Peru, the likely explanation comes from the low number of tests being performed. I have a strong feeling that most tests are being performed on people who have been in contact with those who been found to be infected — primarily family members. If that is the case, then this number is actually surprisingly low.
Good indicators of how COVID is affecting the region less and less are the steady drops in hospitalizations and deaths. Even if the region has a relatively high rate of transmission, it’s also likely that the aggressively successful program of vaccinating those most likely to suffer from the extreme effects of the virus is working.
The number of deaths each day is so low now — 2.0 per day — that it is almost negligible compared to other causes of death in the region of 1.2 million people.
[As I write this morning, last night’s data indicates that the positivity rate continues to drop to 12.2%.]
WHAT LIES AHEAD?
The number of vaccines continue to enter Peru where they are distributed at an ever-increasing rate which bodes well for the country in the future.
The concern, of course, is the growing prevalence of the Delta variant which, despite being in the country for over two months, doesn’t appear to be having near the effect that it is having in countries like the United States. Again, this is probably because Peru is getting vaccinated as quickly as possible while tens of millions in the US have decided not to protect themselves, their families, or anyone else because of misinformation.
Last night Minsa, through the National Institute of Health (INS), reported 31 new cases of the Delta variant in Lima. The number of known cases through Peru has risen to 105. Minsa said that these Delta variant cases have been found in the regions of Arequipa (7), Lima (39), Ica (14), Pasco (10), Junín (16), Apurímac (1), Huancavelica (1), Ayacucho (1) and Callao (16).
Considering the drastically increased potential for the spread of this variant, these numbers are surprisingly low.
More concerning is that, as the majority of the world remains unvaccinated, the potential for new and possibly more virulent and deadly variants increases each day.
As for now, Peru is making very solid improvements and the future looks much improved as long as vaccines continue to be applied to more and more people.
[Now I’ll wait for all the trolls with Ph.D. degrees from the University of YouTube and Social Media to do what they do!]