Soledad Martínez By: Soledad Martínez
Assistant Professor
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10 Aug 2020 : Chile's slow motion train wreck

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been feeling Chile is slowly moving towards disaster. We are used to earthquakes, floods, and volcano eruptions, but every single one of these events was abrupt and there is little anyone could have done to avert most of the damage.  The pandemic, on the other hand, started for Chile in February when news from Italy and Spain made us realize this was no seasonal influenza virus. We knew broadly what we had to do; contact-tracing to the max, quarantine everyone coming from abroad, especially from the most affected countries, and expanding our health system capacity. Many of us gave a huge sigh of relief when the government assembled a world-class COVID-19 advisor committee. My shallow training in epidemiology, even though I am a public health specialist, did not prepare me for what was to come. Government officials were trying to paint a rosy picture saying we were better than any other country in the world; hiding official numbers and ignoring their advisor committee recommendations; alternating between messages of "nothing is happening" and "you are all irresponsible people" trying to open "the economy" as soon as possible. Later I read accounts of other epidemics in the past and this was a common occurrence during such events. And we were not prepared. 

Things have unfolded as (I) expected. We are five months into the pandemic and 10,000 lives have been destroyed. I am working more than ever; I organized a contact-tracing course with professors all over the country which has certified more than 11,000 people and I'm participating in lots of projects that have been funded all thanks to COVID-19. Alas, contact-tracing in Chile is still so deficient that most academics (me included) are expecting a new outbreak after the newly announced plan for transitioning to the "new normal". I am not optimistic.

So much suffering is still to come. And I can help, but I cannot fix it. I did not expect this feeling of impotence five months ago. I now expect it to last months, if not years. I know we will keep plowing on, but every day it becomes a little harder.


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