Sunday, Nobody Goes Out

March 9, was the first case of the virus in Panama. In the space of  3-4 weeks, life has gone from fairly normal to this different existence. Now we are allowed out for 2 hours, which hours are designated by ID numbers, for essentials only (food, pharmacy, gas, bank, health care), women on M-W-F and men Tu-Th-Sa. It is Sunday today so nobody at all is allowed out (except essential workers).

But, how quickly do we adapt? After days and days at home it feels almost normal to us except for the constant barrage of news, steadily increasing number of cases and deaths, and the much worse news coming from the US and around the world. Everyone wonders what the future holds, how long is this going to last, and will life ever get back to normal and when it does, what will our new normal look like?

I am learning new words. I can spell quarantine without spell check, and I can converse about la cuarantena, el virus, and other words I wish I didn’t know like fallicidos (deaths) and cuidado intensive (intensive care). My social circle has been reduced to the neighbors I can talk with across fences, but I’m on the internet more. We’ve been doing almost daily group video chat with my older daughter, the other grandparents, and I, while the kids have snacks and read books. This takes a lot of the sting out of not being able to be with them in person. My other daughter has called me more too, and we’re going to see if we can get her family in on reading circle time as well so the cousins can see each other.

I had a great chat with my older daughter today while her son was at a birthday party. The kids did it all on line playing Minecraft, all together in the same game from their homes. Their teachers are also using technology for virtual class times to supplement the work being sent home. I know it means a lot to the kids to be able to see their teachers and classmates. I’m also hearing about cooking, gardening, and other skills not taught in school, and more time with parents even though they are all juggling working from home while taking care of housebound kids. I’m really proud of how well they are all doing in these difficult circumstances!

We’ve also settled into something of a routine here. There is checking the news (try to keep that to a minimum), correspondence, my audio book addiction (yes, I have ebooks too), music practice, cooking, laundry and the normal house chores, and I’ve been cleaning more seriously so depending on how long this goes on, I’m going to have the cleanest house ever! I’ve been scrubbing the textured floor tiles with a scrub brush, sorting some of the piles that tend to accumulate in catch all spots and cleaning shelves, walls, and other things. Maybe one of these days we’ll even tackle that scary place under the kitchen sink!

I miss biking the most, the physical activity, fresh air, and social interactions. I know there are exercise videos and other opportunities but yuck, that is so not my thing so I’m trying to stay active with yard and house work. I’m not hauling band equipment either, but I’ve enjoyed this down time to work on my skills and new material. Someone posted a video of one of the other bands at our usual venue though, which reminded me of what we are missing – the music, the comradery with the other musicians, the employees, and the audience. I know someday we will be back but there is no telling when. And since tourists make up a large part of the audience and clientele of the venue, who knows when they will start coming back.

But all in all, we have nothing to complain about. We are SO fortunate. And I feel so much for people not only sick, but suffering from loss of work, loss of income, business shut downs, separations from friends and families, and the unknown of an uncertain future.

But hey, at least the beaches in Georgia are open again. Here in Chiriqui the local authorities posted a beautiful video to thank the trash collectors for their very important work in keeping the country clean.

 

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RAIN!!

I know, a lot of you have been having more than enough rain, and when you are on lockdown and the rain keeps you from even taking a walk, it’s not very welcome.

Here though, it’s been summer which means hot, dry, and windy. By the end of March we are so tired of hot, dry, and windy that a good rain is cause for a party! Well maybe a virtual party with you all on line under the circumstances, but a party just the same.

Summer here is from December to April. Rains tapers off in December and it’s pretty nice. January is also good, though windy at times with the summer trade winds. Schools are on vacation and the weather is ideal for spending time outdoors and enjoying friends and family. February is OK, but getting hotter, drier, windier, and it’s time for schools to start again. Maybe if we are lucky there is a rain now and then, but it may be weeks before there will be another drop from the sky. By March, however, it’s clear skies, intense sun, oven style heat in the afternoons, and brush fires are more common in the dry vegetation. I could skip March altogether but it’s part of the weather cycle, so I hunker down in the AC inside all afternoon. But, in April, and maybe even before if we are really lucky, the RAIN comes back! Yay!

In case you haven’t guessed by now, I like the rainy season. Mornings are beautiful, sunny, and clear. Usually by the time the afternoon is getting too hot, the clouds have moved in and it’s likely to rain. It clears up after dark and nights are wonderful. This is in general but some days may have no rain, it may rain for a short time on other days, sometimes there will be an epic downpour with crazy amounts of water (though that never lasts long), and sometimes it will rain well into the evening. But, it always rains enough to keep everything lush and green. September is likely to have more rain, and October and November are known as the wettest months of the year.

It’s funny that there are so many holidays in November and many are celebrated with parades. With luck they are early enough in the day to escape the rains, but sometimes the participants get soaked, and the students who practice daily in preparation get soaked a lot. But thankfully, the rain isn’t cold, just wet so it’s not like getting soaked up north.

Now keep in mind that this is David, Pacific coast, lowlands. Conditions are entirely different in the mountains. The band has played in Boquete in the hot, dry summer and gotten wet and chilled to the bone! (or depending on your tolerance, pleasantly cooled off. ha!) The foggy mist is likely to roll through the mountains, and it isn’t unusual to have some rain even in the driest summer months. There is a ridge of mountains running down the center on the country, and on the Caribbean side there is a entirely different weather pattern. It may rain at any time of the day or night, and at any time of the year.

But today, we are talking about the first rain in weeks here in David. It’s been an hour and it feels like it’s just now thinking about letting up. It’s cool outside now and there’s nothing like the smell of a fresh rain. Thank you skies for this wonderful rain

 

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More of the Same

It’s Monday 3/30, and not a whole lot has changed in the last few days. We continue to be allowed out for very limited hours determined by the last number of your ID, and going out is only for food, medicine, gas, banking, and medical care. Of course there are those who don’t follow the rules, but I have read about arrests by the police who are out there to enforce the rules.

Cases continue to increase every day but the rate of increase has slowed down – 674 on Thursday, 786 on Friday, 901 on Saturday, 989 on Sunday, and 1075 today. There are 5 cases near us, and some others around the province but the majority of the cases continue to be in Panama City.

graph from yesterday

The red line is total cases, and the blue one tracks the number of new cases every day. I hope the flattening of that curve means the quarantine restrictions are working, but of course the number of people tested also factor into those numbers.

Other than a quick trip to the produce market last week, we have stayed home so I’m not sure what is going on around town. Word is, it’s pretty quiet and shopping for food is easier without the long  slow supermarket lines of before. I’m happy that our produce guy is delivering our order tomorrow so we shouldn’t have to go out again for a week, or longer if he continues to be able to make deliveries.

There were rumors that we would be on total lockdown for a period of time, no going out for anything but the government circulated information that this was false and we shouldn’t believe anything unless it comes directly from the government or the health department. The government did come out with something new this afternoon though. Now, women are allowed out Mon-Wed-Fri, men are allowed out Tues-Thurs-Sat, and everyone is to stay home on Sunday. This is in addition to the restricted hours by ID number already in place.

It will be interesting to see how all this plays out, and under the circumstances I’d rather live with the restrictions here in Panama. I read about people out and about in the US and other places, many of them not realizing how dangerous this could be for themselves and others and I’m concerned. I’m really really concerned for the people in health care who are caring for infected people without adequate protective equipment.

As for us, we’re getting into a bit of a daily routine. I have enough going on that I keep plenty busy even without going out, and I figure I may as well use this time wisely and be productive. I do miss biking though. But, we’re practicing music and learning new material, so by the time the band is able to play again we are going to be full of pent up energy and a lot of new material! And, the house might be cleaner than it’s been in ages.

I’m very thankful for the internet and video chats to keep in touch with family. We had story and snack time again with the grandparents which was great, and I had a great chat with the other family yesterday.

reading some fun books with the grandmas!

All of you out there, I hope you are doing OK! I know this is a terrible hardship for so many, along with the isolation and uncertainty. We will get through this, though it’s going to be difficult for quite a while yet. Hang in there, and lets all take care of each other and do what we can.  Stay healthy, stay safe, and stay home if you possibly can.

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The (Panama) President’s Speech

Posted on Facebook by Calvin Froedge, Chris DeRose, and others on facebook. Thank you, whomever did this translation. It still almost brings tears to my eyes to read this yet another time.

you can see the original video here https://www.telemetro.com/…/cortizo-anuncia-cu…/2712278.html).

“Good afternoon, I wanted to take this opportunity to communicate to the country about what we’re doing and what we’re going to do. The world and Panama is facing a difficult moment. It’s a moment of uncertainty. This is going to be a hard war, a prolonged and extensive war, but I don’t have any doubt that we’re going to win it. A team has been established to mitigate all the effects of the virus, health effects, social effects, and economic effects.

How did we come to the decision to put these measures in place? In light of evidence. ‘You have to do this, you have to do that’ – in this kind of situation that stuff isn’t worth much, we have to support executive actions with the decisions of the health teams. The ministry of health, CSS, scientists, the directors of different institutions, and other organizations observe and analyze make a decision and pass it to the executive branch.

We’re beginning a 24 hour quarantine obviously with some logical exceptions, health workers, public forces, food sellers and grocery stores, chinitos, banks. Daily movement is allowed but restricted based on the last number of cedula (he lays out details for this, there are charts you can refer to) for purchase of food, gas, medications. This is a 24 hours quarantine but there are VERY IMPORTANT exemptions, understand that this is a decision based in evidence provided by the health team. The health team needs to respond to this crisis with constantly having in mind “Why are we here” and have a lot of discipline, because this is a difficult situation.

We need to take ALL decisions based on evidence. When we say you need to stay in your house, it’s important that you do so, maintain a meter and a half between yourself and other people. When there’s someone infected, it’s not just an isolation process, it’s also a treatment process, we need to keep in mind what the enemy is. When we see someone suffering, when we see someone fall, it’s a real heartache, I give to everyone affected by this virus my condolences. I can’t give you a hug because right now that’s prohibited. We need to keep pushing and fighting, I’m sure we’re going to win this thing.

Wash your hands using the water responsibly. It’s important that we conserve water. Conserve water brushing your teeth or flushing the toilet, make sure it doesn’t run. Every gallon of water that we save is important. We’re on top of the financial situation, making tests, and treatment. We have the resources to keep advancing as we need to for months. For sure, our resources are not infinite. We don’t have a central bank. We have to be efficient, and organized in the following months and use our resources well. We have to be very conscious of using our resources effectively.

We assure to the country we’re going to maintain all of the transfer programs, $1.6B in CSS transfers, gas subsidies, electricity, welfare, scholarships and many other subsidies and benefits – we’re going to guarantee EVERYTHING but please utilize these things on what is necessary – food and medicine – forget about everything else – worry about the basics. We’re not gonna leave anybody behind who is losing their income, but we ALL have to share the burden. This is the moment of solidarity – there is no other.

Nobody who has lost their income on account of the virus is going to lose their home due to mortgage default. The banks are flexible, believe me, I’ve talked to the banking authorities and they are going to be flexible. Rest assured if you’re without income for three months you won’t need to pay your mortgage. Nobody is going to take away your house because you can’t work. For those of you who fall in the range of standard usage the electric bill will be lowered by around 50%. Nobody is going to lose electricity because they aren’t working. 300-1000 KW usage will be discounted by 30%. In any case you have three months of grace where your electricity will not be cut. Nobody is going to cut the water service in the next three months. But use it responsibly. Nobody is going to cut the internet service in the next three months. This relief plan is a fight for survival against a mortal enemy. Relief is for food, medications, and gas. We’re testing a system to use the cedula like a debit card. We’ve been testing it for a week and we need to study it more but it seems like it’s working. The relief plan is for families, people that live day to day, people who have lost their wages, vulnerable populations.

All of the logistic aren’t simple. We’re advancing and we’re doing tests. We’re going to be watching house by house, working with local authorities, to implement this process. Remember we’re in war time. We have to have solidarity. Don’t ask for things that someone else needs more. If you have plantains, or chickens, or eggs, and you have a neighbor in trouble, offer them some. Demonstrate the solidarity and the greatness of the country. Remember that the relief plan for the country is a plan of survival.

We have a bank account in Banco Nacional for receiving donations to augment the national response. Our resources are very finite and every bit of help is needed. We need that each and every person shows solidarity. This virus kills solidarity, unity, discipline, order, and faith. If we unite, we’re going to defeat this virus and live a more beautiful life. We have to have patience. In a situation like this patience is very important. Resistance, the good administration of food, plains, rice, beans, it’s essential we administer everything well in this fight for survival.

This is the time to pray. If you don’t pray to above you won’t be blessed. Give thanks to God. Today I received videos of solidarity for example from restaurant owners, disco tech owners, bar owners, a beautiful but different type of video giving us joy and strength, that said let’s move forward, uniting forces. Someone from the police arrived and he said “We leave for the streets in the hand of god.” There are many units in the police that are testing positive, but when I read these messages from the police, sinaproc, the public forces, saying we’re going to the streets united, wrapped in the hands of God, we’re going to defeat our enemy. We have to give thanks to God for the people on the front line.

I have to be in meetings and I have to be answer answering people till 1 in the morning, but we have to give thanks to the doctors, the nurses, technicians, administrators, the laundry workers, the people cooking and cleaning, all these health workers, damn. We have such an extraordinary team in this country. To the public forces and functionaries that have to be on the front line in this 24 hours quarantine. To those operating the metro and busses, those in the fields and the sea producing food, thank you. Those in the public forces, those producing food, the chinos, the supers, the means of conversation, to this spirit that grows in adversity, for this warrior attitude, the only thing I can say is I, Nito Cortizo, with the loudest cry, thank you.

All of us Panamanians need to keep uniting forces. We’re fighting against the current. We all have to advance in the same direction, have solidarity, in the hand of God, us the world and Panama, are going to overcome this enemy, the coronavirus.

Thank you for allowing me to speak to you – to all who are listening, I love this country. To all of you who are listening, love this country. Take out your Panamanian flag, no matter how old it is, take out your warrior flag. We’re gonna keep moving forward, like we’re doing, doing well. To the health team and the Panamanians in the front line, all we can say is take care of yourself, but please, care for us, too. Let’s keep advancing. May God bless this great country. Thank you.”

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Lockdown!

We thought we had lockdown before, but this is an even more serious lockdown. I’m sitting on my terrace tonight and there is no traffic noise, not a car, not a rumble of a truck in the distance, nothing. It’s eerily quiet except for the birds, crickets, and the occasional sound of a neighbor or dog.

There was a 5pm-5am curfew but now there is a total 24 hr./day curfew. There will be no more ignoring the precautions and running around as you wish. Everyone is allowed only one hour out, and which hour is determined by the last number of your ID. This is for going to the supermarket, pharmacy, bank, gas station, or health care. It’s not for exercise, walking the dog, or anything non-essential. The police are out and about to enforce the rules.

The numbers came out today – 558 cases, 115 more than yesterday, 8 deaths, no new deaths since yesterday. The numbers are going up but so is the testing so it’s hard to say if more people are getting sick or more people are being identified. It’s probably both but either way, the new restrictions are said to be indefinite and rumor is that this will be for at least 30 days. That sounds sensible to me.

It’s bedtime so that’s all I’m going to write at the moment. Our produce guy is not allowed out so tomorrow we plan to go down the road to the produce market. It will be interesting to see what is going on.

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It’s Thursday afternoon now, and the quiet continues. We went to the produce market at the allotted time for 65+ folks, 11am-1pm. The market entrances are closed so you stand outside, give them your order and they go get it for you. The workers had gloves and masks, and a couple spray bottles of alcohol were evident for cleaning hands or whatever. We got what we needed and a few extra things for a solo older neighbor lady. Neighbors said the situation at the supermarkets is much better without the long, slow lines, so that’s good in case we need to go. But we’re set for now and should only need another produce run in a week or so.

I got home in time for snack and reading circle time. My grandkids are home, so my daughter had this wonderful idea. We were in a video chat on one tablet, the other grandparents were on another, and we joined the circle while the kids read books and had their snacks. Then it ended with singing Zippity Do Da. It was wonderful to have this connection with my family!

Whoa! I heard a car! nope, its just the neighbor moving his car to the shade of a tree behind the house.

I feel good here though. Yes, this is inconvenient and really difficult for many, but the leadership is watching and acting. The president gave a speech last night  full of information, plans, encouragement, compassion, hope, solidarity in this difficult time, and promises of support and economic relief. I’ll share it in another post. What a contrast with what I’ve been seeing from my native country…. I was going to say home country but this is home now. Thank you Panama for yet one more reason to feel good here.

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Waiting in Lines

Things here in Panama continue to shut down more and more as the virus progresses. Last night the news said there are 345 cases in Panama, 6 deaths, 8 cases in Chiriquí (our province) 2 in the town just up the road from us, and one in Boquete, the expat center where our band plays. One death was a 13 year old girl.

The curfew has been expanded to 5pm-5am, and there is talk of tightening it down a lot more. If so, you will be allowed out for a hour a day, the hour to be determined by the last number on your ID. All buses in David have been suspended, and there are no buses traveling around the country either. There are numerous checkpoints around the country also to keep people from traveling out of their areas, and especially to keep people from traveling out of Panama City which has the majority of the cases, and all the deaths. I have heard about a few humanitarian flights out of the country but in general, all planes are grounded.

Yesterday there was news that they were washing and disinfecting the streets in downtown David. Today there is news that they are disinfecting all vehicles going into Volcan and the highlands. The majority of the produce for the country is grown there so it’s critical to keep that area safe and those farmers on the job.

Everyone is being urged to stay home by everyone in authority and every media outlet or risk heavy fines and possible criminal charges, especially if you are under quarantine orders. Unfortunately, like everywhere, not everyone is in compliance and they have even found infected, quarantined people out and about, which is totally not cool. Thus, the talk of major restrictions.

We went grocery shopping yesterday and saw first hand the measures being taken. Stores are closed and padlocked except for essential stores – supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations, banks, etc. Social distancing is required at all times.

We arrived at the shopping area to find that DoIt Center, the hardware store was open but quieter than usual. There was a pump bottle of hand sanitizer for everyone’s use just inside the door, and lines on the floor to separate people at checkout. Arrocha (pharmacy and general almost everything store) was also open but it was almost empty.

I had plenty of time to visit other stores while we waited in the supermarket (El Rey) line. The line didn’t seem that huge but it took forever – 2 1/2 hours for us, and the line was twice as long by the time we got close to the supermarket door. People were observing social distancing, some had masks, and a few had gloves. I saw a couple policemen making the rounds, and there was a cleaning person mopping the floor and wiping down all surfaces.

I wasn’t sure what was going on in the supermarket. When one shopper came out, they would let another in (only one per family or group) but people came out who hadn’t been very far in front of us in line. When we finally got to the front of the line, they let in 20 people at once. There were NO shoppers at all in the store when our group came in. There seemed to be the usual number of check out people and bag boys, though of course they were all hanging around with nothing to do at the time. But, the store was very well stocked. I got everything on my list which is unusual. Everything! Much better than I expected.

We also bought gas for the kitchen (we use gas cans, kind of like for a BBQ and when one runs empty, you go to the store and exchange it for a full one. $5.12, lasts about a month). We stopped at the convenience store on our way out and their delivery hadn’t come in yet, but we took so long shopping that by the time we came back we were able to exchange our gas can. Now we are STOCKED UP! The freezer is full, the kitchen is full, we have gas for both the kitchen and the cars (not that we are going anywhere), and some cash on hand just in case. We probably don’t need to leave the house for a month, probably two.

Leaving the house now feels like leaving a “safe zone”. Cases of the virus are increasing every day, and in our province as well. There was one in Chiriqui, then three, and yesterday the count was up to eight, including two in the town right up the road, and another in Boquete where our band plays. If there are active cases identified you know there are more out there that nobody knows about yet. I don’t want to get sick or much worse, become one of the carriers who is spreading the virus around.

I continue to be very happy with Panama’s management of this epidemic. Word is that they have bought millions of doses of antiviral drugs that have been found to be helpful against this virus. Shipments of test kits, masks, ventilators, and other supplies that were ordered continue to arrive.  They continue to track every case and quarantine everyone who may have been exposed and they have a 5 tier plan of action which covers identification, testing, monitoring, in home visits, health teams in clinics, hospital and ICU beds, and more beds for recovering people who aren’t well enough to go home. Of course there are rumors and confusion but in general, I feel like the leadership has been really leading and making sensible decisions, even though they are difficult. When it’s a choice between the economy or lives, they are going for saving lives all the way. There will be economic help coming as soon as possible but right now, lets keep people alive.

So, life in a crazy situation. I feel like this is the best possible place I could be. I wish you all well! Please stay home, stay safe, and stay healthy.

Posted in Panama | 11 Comments

Life in Lockdown

It seems that pretty much everyone in the world can relate to this, as we all hunker down and stay home to avoid catching or spreading the virus.

I posted yesterday about Panama, who is doing everything possible to keep people safe. Today news came through that hotels are ordered to close. Buses and planes from David (western Panama) to Panama City (east) are shut down, so if you want to fly out of the country from the international airport in Panama City, you have to drive there and make it through numerous checkpoints. If you don’t make it out this weekend with the numerous cancelled flights and closed airports, you aren’t going anywhere since all flights are stopped as of tomorrow midnight. And, to further complicate things, if you make it to Panama City but don’t manage to fly out, you risk being stuck in Panama City since traffic from there to the interior is being closely monitored and restricted. But, there are no available hotels in Panama City…. (or anywhere)

Thank goodness for friends, social media, and good people who are stepping up to do whatever they can in these difficult times. Our neighborhood chat group shares news, prayers and especially lately, lots of jokes to keep everyone’s spirits up.

If you are quarantined, how do you walk your dog?

For us here, our main difference is the lack of band gigs. We usually played on Sunday which means Saturday was spent preparing and practicing. Sunday was for last minute practice, packing up, driving to Boquete, setting up, playing, tearing down, driving home, and eventually winding down so I could sleep. On Monday I was usually tired so that was for cleaning house, unpacking, re-setting up band equipment in the living room, and catching up on correspondence and other low energy things. Tuesday – Friday was time for working on new material, vocal exercises (I’m trying very hard to be a singer who does not suck!) and we would have band practice if we could (which takes another good part of another day).

Now though, every day is a day off. When we finally get back out, we could be almost a new band! So far we have added Otherside, by RHCP, Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones, Smells like Teen Spirit by Nirvana, and Welcome to the Jungle by Guns N Roses is in the works. I also drug out New Years Day by U2 that I did a long time ago, to see if I can sing it better now that my voice is stronger. Next… we always have a list that changes day by day so who knows. We can’t really practice as a band since we’re down here and our drummer is up in Boquete, but if we all learn our parts we can usually put things together quite quickly.

I’ve also been cleaning up the yard. It’s hot, dry, windy summer so there are leaves and dead stuff to clean up, but not much weeding since it’s hard for anything to grow right now. We are eagerly looking forward to the return of the rains! Maybe 3 more weeks? And, if I get restless there are always home maintenance projects. Today I worked in the bathroom cleaning out a couple catch-all boxes, and scrubbing the tile floor with comet and a brush. Maybe tomorrow I’ll scrub the shower?

And of course there is always the internet!  Playing balcony bingo in Spain….

Check youtube. There are many videos of people singing together from balconies, exercising together, and even eating together, each family on their own balcony. There are also so many other things on the internet, operas from the Metropolitan Opera, kids books from Audible, virtual tours of museums, many artists streaming their music for free on line, the list goes on and on. Everybody is having a hard time but many good people are contributing whatever they can to ease the pain.

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Well now it’s Saturday evening. News just came through that there has been another death in Panama, a 50 year old female doctor in Panama City. We also have one case in Chiriqui, a bit west of David. There is more and more news of supermarkets not allowing anyone over 60 to shop, which, at 67 and 73 would be a hardship for us (though there is no official notice that this is supposed to be happening). And now, there is also a rumor that we will soon get a notice to stock up for 2 weeks because we will be told to stay home, EVERYBODY, in the house, nobody allowed to leave at all for any reason. Wow… but if everybody is quarantined, maybe this will allow the country to get control of the situation.

I’m really glad to be here, but concerned for my family back in the US. Thankfully though they are all working from home. Both families have young kids without school/childcare though which makes work challenging, but they are home and their jobs/paychecks are continuing, which is huge. I don’t dare think of the devastating economic impact this is having on so many people. My older daughter (who works for the city) says the need for housing, food, and very basis necessities is heartbreaking and overwhelming, and it’s only going to get worse.

Crazy times!  We all do what we can to stay safe and help our neighbors. If you doubt this is real, if you doubt that this is serious, just look at what is going on in Italy. That is truly heartbreaking. Stay home, stay calm, and wash your hands.

 

Posted in Panama | 9 Comments

Panama Coronavirus Response Continues

Yesterday the news came out that all flights in and out of Panama will be stopped on March 22nd. Currently only citizens and residents can come in, but after the 22nd nobody will be able to come in or out of the country. There will be non residents trapped here wondering how this will affect their legality in the country, and I’m sure Panama residents will also be trapped outside of the country. The rumors I’ve heard say it’s almost impossible to go anywhere as more countries close their borders, and as more airlines cancel more and more flights. Wherever you are, chances are that’s where you will be for the foreseeable future.

Within Panama, there are roadblocks to keep people from leaving Panama City and spreading the virus to the rest of the country. You can’t get through unless you can document that you have business in the interior. There is also a curfew from 9pm-5am, and all liquor sales have been banned. Opinion is this will discourage people from behaving irresponsibly, having parties, and spending money on alcohol when people are losing work and will need all their money for basic necessities. Beaches are also closed, as are parks, bars, and anyplace people can gather. Word is that restaurants can serve limited customers, at least at the moment, but take out and delivery are encouraged. There are many rumors going around about everything, of course, and things are changing daily but the changes always seem to be towards less mobility and less opportunity for people to infect each other.

It’s a crazy time not just here, but all over the world. Someone suggested that this is a great time to keep a journal to record this unique experience. I suppose this is one of many activities that have been suggested to keep busy during quarantine. People have been busy on facebook, and our neighborhood WhatsApp group has been going crazy with messages! I’ll have to share some of the jokes and inspiring stories when I get more time.

I saw a great article on the United Nations News website praising Panama for it’s response to the virus. I’ve run it through Google translate for you all and copied it below. I am very very thankful to the authorities here in Panama for doing everything they can to take care of everyone. I know it’s a pain and inconvenient at best, and it will be financially terrible for many, but if we can avoid widespread infection, high numbers of deaths, and an overwhelmed health care system this seems the much better alternative. I only wish a response this strong and effective was the case in every country!

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https://news.un.org/es/story/2020/03/1471462

Panama responded quickly to the epidemic of COVID19, has allocated economic resources, has managed to sequence the virus genome to quickly diagnose cases that appear in the country, has strengthened its health system and has taken measures to isolate citizens. The heads of the UN agencies in the country believe that there are lessons that can be exported to other countries in Latin America.

China and South Korea have been praised by global health authorities and the international press for having responded aggressively and effectively to the coronavirus and successfully curbing the epidemic. But in Latin America there is an example of how the closest response should be: Panama.

The small Central American country has surpassed a hundred cases, but at the moment there is only one deceased.

Panama “has always been one step ahead,” says Gerardo Alfaro, the representative of the Pan American Health Organization in the country in an interview with UN News.

One of the keys has been to start diagnostic tests quickly. “It has allowed us very early to confirm and rule out cases,” says the PAHO representative.

In addition, they have taken them throughout the national territory. “Investments made in real-time PCR kits (test kits) for HIV and tuberculosis are being used. Those same teams are used to run coronavirus tests that give results in half an hour, ”he explains.

In Panama there are 25 teams distributed throughout the country, including in remote areas, such as indigenous regions. The Ministry of Health is acquiring the necessary reagents to have tests in remote places quickly.

Also, tests aren’t just done in hospitals. “The doctors go to the home, with their protective equipment, take the sample and process it,” says Alfaro, who explains that there are 20 technical teams with doctors and nurses. The epidemiological surveillance system receives the results and they notify the patients.

The five lessons of Panama

  1. Get ahead of the event and don’t underestimate the risk.
  2. Think of possible scenarios and build a support team
  3. Quickly mobilize resources
  4. Share experiences with countries and work as a subregion in Central America
  5. Put the issue on the United Nations agenda and share information between different agencies

Hospital Preparation

Panama took measures to prevent the collapse of hospitals. Each hospital can do “reconversion of beds”, giving early discharges, can suspend non-urgent surgeries and rotate medical and nursing personnel. “The staff has to know the protocols and have the equipment. It is key not to have infected medical personnel, “says Alfaro.

The representative of the Organization believes that another good decision was to appoint an intensive care team coordinator. “This makes it possible to quickly update an inventory of the resources of each institution in the public and private sector and to articulate it as a single network.”

At this time, nine patients, 8% of those infected, are in critical condition, admitted to an intensive care unit and may require assisted breathing.

“They quickly made purchases and we already received 50 additional ventilation equipment. We have already seen COVID-19 modular patient hospital design only. They have made 20 containers available to have mobile offices. The entire inventory of tents was acquired, a total of 25 for respiratory triage “, explains Alfaro.

“Imagine that there is a critical patient in the private sector and their coverage is exhausted and they have to be transferred to the public sector. This means contaminating an additional room. These coordination mechanisms have allowed us to make regulations more flexible and there is a commitment from the insurers’ association to be able to share resources, optimize those resources and be more efficient in the response, ”he adds.

Panama has a public and private health system. In the public sector, Social Security has coverage of 80% of affiliated people (not necessarily with effective access). The Ministry of Health has responsibility for the other 20% of the uninsured population, but owns 80% of clinics and hospitals.

“In the day to day we see a lot of cross subsidy. Many people with insurance are treated at Ministry facilities. At this time, there are no strict verification mechanisms and we are all articulated in a single network at the functional level. The director of social security sits every day with the team working with the minister, who has command as the national authority, “explains Alfaro.

The resident coordinator of the United Nations in the country, César Núñez, provides another key to the answer: the large presence of scientists in the country. “The Gorgas Commemorative Institute reported on Tuesday that it managed to carry out the first sequencing of the SARSCoV2 virus (coronavirus) in an imported case in Panama. “This will allow, knowing the strain that circulates in Panama, to adapt the vaccines when they are available,” he explains.

Social isolation

Panama is applying various measures to isolate citizens, such as teleworking, the suspension of classes in schools and universities, and the “stay at home” campaigns.

These strategies give “a breather” to the health systems and avoid the over demand of services that could not be managed.

“The citizen response is a little slower and hence there are increasingly stricter measures. But we have seen, for example, how several supermarket chains have organized to avoid riots. That is being done well, ”they point out.

In addition, a curfew has been established throughout the national territory, from 9:00 at night to 5:00 in the morning.

Government coordination

The heads of the UN assure that coordination between the different areas of the Government has also been key.

“The president himself exercises command and is activating the devices and ministries to make decisions. It is a pleasure to see with the seriousness that the country has assumed this issue and the agility with which it makes decisions. It is comfortable to work like this. We do not have to go and convince the authorities, because they are already fully convinced, “says Alfaro.

“It gives us peace of mind, because there is installed capacity, committed human resources and economic capacity. The speed with which the Government is making decisions to close the gaps is impressive, ”he points out.

“It is a combination of political involvement and commitment that has resulted in budgets, and an implementation with a clear structure is what has allowed the country to advance,” adds Nuñez.

Posted in Panama | 7 Comments

Shopping at Pricesmart Today

Pricesmart is Panama’s version of Costco, a membership store that’s especially good for stocking up and bulk items.

Panama is currently in an emergency lockdown state because of the Coronavirus threat. Borders are closed to all but citizens and residents and everyone coming in is immediately quarantined for 14 days (at home). Schools are closed, restaurants are take out only, and all concerts, sporting events, and anything that would draw any sort of crowd is cancelled. We are under at a 9pm-5am curfew, and all liquor sales are even being suspended tonight.

All this can seem drastic and it’s a real hardship for people and businesses, but these strict measures seem to be working. Check out this page with stats on the progression of the coronavirus. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries  We have 69 cases but no new cases identified today, a rarity on this list.

Anyway, back to shopping. 50 people are allowed in a store or supermarket at one time, so there are lines outside all the supermarkets. Pricesmart is taking precautions VERY seriously! We arrived at 8:30 (they are open longer hours 8am-10pm to help with the lines). We waited in line probably 30-40 minutes, and the line was getting longer as we waited. It seemed they let in a certain number of people and then waited until they were done shopping, and then let in the next group of people. Only one person per membership was allowed in so I did the shopping. There was a security guard monitoring the line and making sure people stayed the required 1 meter apart.

When we made it in, we were all give a big dollop of hand sanitizer by a guy waiting inside the door. There was an overhead announcement playing continuously reminding people to stay one meter apart, reminding people not to overbuy so there would be enough supplies for everyone, recommending we pay with a credit card to avoid handling cash, and I don’t remember exactly what else. The store seemed to be well stocked. I didn’t check the toilet paper, preferring to be efficient and follow my list so I could get on with it and make room for the people waiting, but almost everything on my list was available. (It wouldn’t be normal Panama if everything on your list could be found!) I didn’t see it myself, but someone else share a photo of a list posted that says you can only buy 3 of the things on the list – coffee, milk, sugar, beans, rice, paper products, cleaning supplies, diapers, etc.

Check out went rather quickly since there were so few people in line. The workers had hand sanitizer at their stations and used it between every customer. We were again separated by lines on the floor so we wouldn’t get to close to other people waiting in line.

Strange to see so few people checking out

Driving around though (we just went down the Panamerican highway from one side of town to the other) things look pretty normal. Traffic was light at the early hour, but people are going about their daily business.

It’s kind of a strange experience living under these circumstances but we are so fortunate. We have income so we’re not worried about losing work, and with our freezer we can tolerate extended periods without leaving the house. We don’t have kids or anyone to worry about besides ourselves, and we have plenty to keep us busy at home. I feel for the businesses that have to be struggling now though, and people who depend on their work to pay the bills. The government is working on measures to help but that can’t offset all the difficulties.

But, I digress. This is supposed to be about shopping today. I notice the Panamanians waiting in line were very chill and patient, mostly entertaining themselves with their phones. I found much less smiling and greeting as I made my way around the store though, so I hope this doesn’t put a social as well as physical distance between people. But I am really really grateful for what Panama is doing to keep us as safe as possible, and for how quickly they acted once the treat was identified. If only this was so the world over!

Posted in Panama | 10 Comments

Coronavirus in Panama

Panama has been doing a great job in this difficult time, IMO, and I am very glad to be here. Yes, it’s inconvenient and this will be especially hard for businesses. But, we’ve seen the heartbreaking accounts of the situation in Italy where they didn’t get serious fast enough, and we definitely don’t want anything like that happening anywhere else.

As I understand it, the biggest goal is to keep the virus from spreading so fast that the hospitals and health care system become overwhelmed. Maybe the virus will still spread and maybe many people will eventually get it, but if the progress is slow then the sick people won’t all show up at the hospital at the same time, and more lives can be saved. Of course the ideal situation is to stop the spread of the virus entirely, but this may not be realistic.

Panama has closed the borders in an attempt to keep the virus from getting into the country. If you are not a citizen or legal resident, you can’t come in. Within the county, every effort is being made to keep any threat under control, and prevent people from getting close enough to each other to pass along the virus in case they might be contagious and not know it. (more below). I’ve heard that people are even being stopped at the police checkpoint above us on the way to Boquete, and everyone’s ID and temperature is being checked!

As for us, we are off quarantine and doing fine. When we returned from Rome, we were instructed to stay home for 14 days, and we got twice daily calls from the health department to check on us and give us instructions. Even now that we are off quarantine, we were instructed to go out as little as possible, and only for necessities. We were happy to stay home with our well stocked freezer and weekly visits from our produce guy, but I can see how this would be a real hardship for many.

We went out today to do some necessary shopping and found lines at all the supermarkets. Only 50 people at a time are being let in to avoid crowding. Pricesmart (our version of Costco) had lines down the block and around the corner so we didn’t stay.

El Rey (our nearby supermarket) also had a line but we waited about 20 minutes to get in, not bad. There was a guy in a lab coat, gloves, and mask supervising the entrance, and new people were only let in at the rate people were leaving to keep a constant 50 people in the store. There were lines on the floor at the checkouts to keep people separated while they were waiting for a cashier.

Around town though, things felt fairly normal. There was maybe slightly less traffic, but work was being done on construction projects, street vendors were out, and people were moving about on foot, bikes, buses, and taxis as usual. People are aware though. I had time to watch people while we were waiting in line, and I didn’t see any of the common kiss-on-the-cheek greetings. Maybe they didn’t always keep the required distance apart in line, but they weren’t touching each other either. I visited a friend in a nearby hardware store (DoIt) and got the elbow bump greeting, as we have been instructed. I noticed that they had way fewer customers than usual though. I also noticed very few people wearing masks anywhere we went.

I’ve run across a couple things that explain what’s going on and what’s being done in the country better than I can, so I’ll share them here below.

A lawyer sent this out to his clients and it’s making the rounds on social media. I think this is a couple days more current than the one below, which explains the slightly different statistics.

We understand that many of you live abroad and may be anxious to know about the situation on the ground here in Panama with regard to the COVID-19 virus (“Coronavirus”). Fortunately, the number of cases in Panama remains relatively low, with only 55 recorded cases and one fatality since the first incident was confirmed on March 9. Regardless, the Panamanian government has been implementing very strict measures to prevent the spread of the virus:

* Flights originating from Europe and Asia are now prohibited from landing in Panama.

* Passengers on cruise ships that have visited high-risk areas are prohibited from disembarking in Panamanian ports.

* Only Panamanian nationals and foreigners with permanent residency in Panama are permitted to enter the country, and they are required to go into home quarantine for 14 days immediately upon their arrival (effective March 16).

* All citizens have been instructed to remain at home as much as possible during these first few critical weeks (self-isolation). In addition, they are asked to avoid unnecessary travel, especially to the interior of the country. (To date, the virus has largely been contained in the Greater Panama City area, with only six cases reported in the interior.)

* Employers have been asked to enable tele-working options for as many employees as possible, and to stagger work hours for those who must come into the office to reduce the number of travelers on public transit during peak hours.

* Funds have been released for the immediate purchase and additional medical equipment (mechanical ventilators, monitors and intensive care beds) that would be required should the country see a dramatic increase in cases that require hospitalization. Intensive care wards have also been expanded throughout the country’s public hospitals.

* The Gorgas Hospital laboratory has sufficient test kits to keep up with the current demand. However, 24,000 additional test kits are on order, and some will be distributed to private hospitals to ease the possible burden on public facilities should the disease progress.

* Strict fines have been put in place through the Consumer Protection Agency to prohibit price gouging by local merchants. Additionally, merchants have been instructed to restrict the number of essential cleaning and personal hygiene items (hand sanitizer, bleach, alcohol, toilet paper) for sale to an individual to ensure a steady supply for the general population.

* Special financing will be made available to small businesses who require assistance in overcoming the challenges they will undoubtedly face while the country confronts this situation.

* Fairs, conventions, cultural events, religious gatherings, concerts and sporting events have been banned throughout the entire country.

* Access to beaches, rivers and public swimming pools has been banned.

* Bars, discotheques, night clubs, casinos, theaters, cinemas are prohibited from operating.

* Indoor and outdoor playgrounds, gyms, sports fields and courts have been shut down.

* Restaurants may continue to operate but can only offer take-out and delivery options. In-salon dining is prohibited.

* All public and private gatherings of over 50 people are prohibited, with strict fines imposed on those who violate this sanction.

* Regular public education campaigns are being transmitted through the local media and through the cellular telephone network by the Ministry of Health (MINSA) and the National Disaster Response Unit (SINAPROC) as new regulations are issued by the government.

I also saw this excellent post put together by an expat. Thank you for this John Wolff.

This Saturday, March 14 the Ministry of Health (Minsa) informed the Panamanian community that the number of actual cases has risen to 43.
There are 37 in quarantine, 5 are hospitalized (two of them in intensive care), 1 deceased.
23 are women and 20 are men; 2 under 20 y/o, 12 between 20-39 y/o, 22 between 40-59 y/o and 7 between 60-79 y/o. No explanation as to why these demographics are different from what we hear about in other countries.
the most severe symptoms are coughing, fever and runny nose. Also throat pain and difficulty breathing.
Here is the breakdown by location within Panama City:
Panamá Metro with 20, Panamá North with 12, Panamá West with 7 and San Miguelito with 3. By knowing the affected areas the better the containment. No other cases have been identified in Chiriqui or any other part of the interior of the country so far. Some of the infected nationals have been infected by traveling to Italy, Spain, France, the United States, and Cuba, and the others by having contacts with these travelers who came from these nations. The Panamanian Government announced the temporary suspension of commercial flights from countries in Europe and Asia. All those related flights to the transport of medicines, surgical medical supplies, medical equipment and vaccines, and humanitarian aid are excepted from this suspension.

For a small country here are some staggering figueres: 820 laboratory surveillance tests have been carried out. 4,535 travelers have been registered, about 3,104 of them were discharged and 1,431 are kept in home follow-up. I must add that the first case was diagnosed four days ago and this administration is moving fast to keep this thing from getting out of control.
Here is more of the strategy:
Declared a state of national emergency
Issued decree that regulates activities that generate agglomeration
It will suspend for 30 days flights to and from countries in Europe and Asia affected by the new coronavirus COVID-19
To guarantee the health of journalists and government authorities, daily conferences will take place virtually
Creates the National Coordination of Intensive Care, in charge of Dr. Julio Sandoval.
It creates a Network of Laboratory Attention Services that will allow testing of coronaviruses in centers, hospitals and polycentric of the Minsa and the Social Security Fund nationwide
Create home visiting teams to attend to cases of COVID-19
The Panamanian government and MINSA is asking the Panamanian people in Panama City to not travel to the interior of the country this includes not sending their children as well. They are asking to do this out of good will. However, the vice minister of MINSA Mr Francisco Sucre said “Minsa does not want to take drastic measures to bring a sanitary fence to the city, but if we do not obey the instructions of the Minsa and avoid mobilization inland, we are going to be forced to establish a fence in the city and we want to announce it in time ”. What they mean by fence is the establishment of checkpoints on the roads leading in and out of Panama City. The same applies to people going from the interior to the Panama City and returning. Personally I believe they will resort to this as a means to keep the interior safe.
The director of the Social Security Hospitals, Dr Enrique Lau said that the youth is not taking this seriously. They feel invincible and think this will not happen to them. But he is cautioning them that if they do not adhere to hygiene measures and discipline they will transmit the virus to their parents and or grandparents. He was pleading with them in a way, but also been matter of fact.

The Vice Minister of MINSA Mr Sucre explained that “things in Panama must continue, we cannot exceed measures such as closing shops when it is necessary for some to be open. The important thing is not to go to places where we make crowds”.

Finally, they reiterated hygiene measures: constant hand washing, not touching your face, cleaning surfaces that we touch frequently, as a preventive measure.
“The most powerful weapon against the coronavirus is hygiene,” said Mr.Sucre.

Yes, I’m happy with how things are being managed here. Of course in these difficult times, conflicting information comes though sometimes, people are upset and have opinions, and there is no rule book for the perfect way to proceed but I see Panama acting quickly and decisively, which I think is what is needed, difficult as it is. Panamanians are generally a pretty patient and tolerant people and though they are naturally concerned and worried, I see much less freaking out than I’ve heard about in other places.

So, here’s wishing us all luck and health, and whatever else you need to get through this difficult time. And in case you haven’t gotten  instructions a hundred times on how to wash your hands, here’s one for you….

xx

Posted in Panama | 7 Comments