It may be invisible, but the coronavirus leaves a deep and cavernous footprint everywhere it lands. The not so quiet virus has made its presence painfully felt in nearly every corner of the world. The United States has gone from a single coronavirus death in late winter, when Seattle reported the death of an elderly woman in a nursing home, to nearly 70,000 in just weeks. There have also been more than 1.1 million cases of the virus that have been recorded nationwide. The numbers of both continue to spin like an out-of-control odometer.
This stealth enemy has seized the momentum and without a vaccine---and sometimes not even basic tools, including gowns and masks to wage a worthy battle---entire countries and continents have found themselves floundering.
In Mexico on just one day---Sunday---the country’s health ministry reported nearly 1,400 new COVID-19 cases and 93 more deaths. As in the U.S., the death toll is too fluid to project from day to day but certainly not difficult to predict its upward trajectory. The country’s C-19 death toll of 23,471 is, like countless other nations, a mere milepost.
“The impact of COVID-19 is obvious,” said Federico Villarreal, Deputy Consul at the Consulate General of Mexico office in Denver. The country’s death toll---small compared to so many others---is a minor consolation. “One person who has died has an undeniable impact,” said Villarreal. Still, despite the odds against it because of a lack of vaccine and other tools to fight this war, Mexico soldiers on. “The government has been working hard and putting into place measures to contain the spread of the virus,” Villarreal said.
Mexico, he said, has imposed shelter in place mandates but has not designated them uniformly. “It depends on the region,” he said. “Some places have more strict measures than others.” As in the U.S. and other places, said the consul, Mexico has been challenged to contain the suffering because of a lack of ventilators. “We were no exception,” said the governmental spokesman. While the virus continues to rage, Villarreal is hopeful that “the peak of contagion will come withing the next week or next two weeks.” If that works out, he added, “we will be able to transit to different measures and slowly reopen the country.”
While Villarreal’s office calls on him to maintain regular communication with Mexico City, he also remains connected to his country’s immigrant population now living and working in Colorado and other parts of his region. “Immigrants tend to be more vulnerable,” he said. “Being undocumented makes things a little bit worse.”
The virus has taken more than a physical toll on Mexican immigrants. “In mountain areas, businesses have been closed and a lot of Mexican (workers) have been fired.” His office and those of his contemporaries across the country have also kept a keen eye on companies like JBS, Tyson, Swift and other meat and poultry processing plants. In these workplaces, outbreaks of COVID-19 have taken a costly and sometimes deadly toll. Greeley’s JBS plant leads this industry in COVID-19 deaths. The plant employs more than 3,000 workers, many immigrants but not exclusively Mexican immigrants.
A number of pro-immigrant groups, including LULAC, the League of United Latin America Citizens, one of the oldest Latino civil rights groups in the country, has proposed a boycott on meat until the industry steps forward with demonstrable proof that it is safeguarding its workforce, including its immigrant employees.
COVID-19 deaths among Mexican immigrants have also created another challenge for families of the dead. Returning the remains have not always been easy nor routine. “It depends on the state where they are going,” said Villarreal. “The responsibility lies with each state and not the federal government.” In some cases, he said, cremation is demanded “if the reason (for the death) is coronavirus.”
The pandemic is also taking a growing toll on Mexican agriculture, said Villarreal. Mexico is the United States leading importer of tomatoes and avocados. Tomato imports from Mexico top $2 billion annually.
The coronavirus pandemic, though, is creating challenges well beyond Mexico. Every country in South America is dealing with rising death and illness from the virus. The numbers, while much smaller than the United States, still represent a serious health concern. Brazil, with nearly 6,000 deaths and more than 100,000 cases, leads the continent. Chile and Ecuador follow. Brazil’s outbreak also presents a threat to the country’s indigenous population and, some have speculated, a potential devastation of this group.
There are an estimated 800,000 indigenous people spread across Brazil, the largest country in South America. The concern for this group is that because they have had no previous contact with the outside world, they may be the most vulnerable. Additionally, they also live farther from any healthcare facilities.
Protests over Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s handing of the pandemic have been reported throughout the country. Bolsonaro, who often praises President Trump for his ruling style, has regularly downplayed the impact of the virus even as the cases in the country have exceeded and sped past the six-figure marker.