As Americans are seeing COVID-19 cases lessen in the United States due to vaccinations, our sisters and brothers in Peru and other South American countries are experiencing a surge of the virus with no end in sight. The first wave of the pandemic last Spring was very severe. Sadly, this second wave is worse. According to news reports, this April was the deadliest month yet in Peru.
Sister Margaret Mary Birchmeier says that everyone at the Mission has been affected in one way or another, and staff members frequently inform her about sick family members. In early May, she wrote to Foundation Board member Gretchen Roos, “Every day someone else has COVID. One staff member’s mother-in-law died yesterday, and his family all has COVID, but he does not. Our psychologist and one of the cleaning ladies now have it. They both had their first shot and were scheduled today for their second shot.”
Her update in mid-May was only slightly better: “We have been having a heavy number of patients every day and, thankfully, we have enough personnel to cover the needs. COVID does not seem to let up. A doctor who works in our emergency room was diagnosed positive yesterday, so that is another problem. We are still under curfew, have to wear double masks and shields, etc. When will it ever end? Let us pray!”
Peru has the highest number of COVID deaths per capita in South America, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Peruvian health leaders state that the COVID variant from Brazil, called P1, has spread to all regions of Peru, and 40% of all cases here are believed to be linked to this strain of the virus. This variant is more contagious and causes more severe symptoms. Peru’s healthcare system is currently overwhelmed. All ICU beds in the country are occupied. Families there are struggling to find care for their loved ones, and some are telling stories of being in line with 30 other people waiting for an ICU bed.
News reports from the region indicate that the shortage of vaccines is the primary reason for the continued struggle with the virus. Until recently, only about 500,000 key workers—including health care workers—had been vaccinated. Fortunately, most of the staff at the Chimbote mission have been covered by this first phase of vaccinations. The country is just now starting to vaccinate people over the age of 70. But short supply of the vaccine is hampering these efforts. Furthermore, Peru relies on vaccines from China, which are the traditional type of vaccine and have less efficacy than the newer mRNA vaccines that are available in the US.
While the country waits for more vaccines to arrive, the government is requiring more stringent precautions. In April, residents were mandated to wear double masks in crowded places such as markets and grocery stores. Nightly curfews are still enforced across the country, and some areas have restricted driving and limited business openings on Sundays.
So as citizens in the United States look forward to a more enjoyable summer and a “light at the end of the pandemic tunnel,” our friends in Chimbote and in all parts of Peru will still be struggling with this devastating situation for many, many months to come. Please keep them in your prayers.
If you would like to make a gift to support the mission, please go to our donation page or you may send a check to The Chimbote Foundation, 2900 Noblestown Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15205.