Mexico City hospitals are filling up, but so are the streets

Full Screen
1 / 12

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

A health worker helps Luis Reyes into a car, to be taken home after recovering from COVID-19, outside the Mexico City Ajusco Medio General Hospital, Wednesday, Dec. 2. 2020. Mexico continues to report an increase in the number of coronavirus cases, with Mexico City continuing to report the biggest portion of the surge. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

MEXICO CITY – Sometimes Latin American dance tunes on the radio — salsa, cumbia, ranchera — bring a little cheer into the emergency room of Mexico City’s Ajusco Medio hospital, which is operating well over normal capacity because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Marta Patricia Mancilla, head of the emergency unit, says the upbeat soundtrack is a distraction from the routine at the packed hospital, where some people have kneeled at the doors of the emergency room, praying for relatives suffering from the disease.

It has been eight months since the city-run Ajusco Medio hospital was named as one of the few exclusively COVID-19 hospitals in the city of almost nine million, and empty beds are rare.

“The worst is still to come,” Mancilla said.

“And unfortunately, it is going to catch us very tired,” she said of medical personnel who have been working constantly while themselves vulnerable to the disease. Almost 2,000 health care workers are confirmed to have died of the disease across Mexico.

The toll is psychological and physical, and is as clear as the numbers written on an erasable whiteboard in the office of Dr. Alejandro Avalos, the Ajusco Medio hospital's director: total patients are at 122% capacity, intensive care is at 116%, and the emergency unit at 100%.

“We haven't been below 100% since May,” said Avalos, whose hospital — a government facility that treats patients for free — has been temporarily expanded to meet the waves of coronavirus cases. Citywide, occupancy at hospitals was 69% this week.

Yet as full as the city's hospitals are, its streets are also once again thronged; in some more central parts of the metropolis, almost everyone wears a face mask, but in other poorer, outlying areas, fewer people do.