José Luis Alomía Zegarra, Mexico’s director of epidemiology, announced late Thursday that Mexico had 100,104 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, behind only the United States, Brazil and India.
The milestone comes less than a week after Mexico topped 1 million registered coronavirus cases, though officials agree the number is probably much higher because of low levels of testing.
Mexico’s point man on the pandemic, Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell, bristled when asked about Mexico reaching the 100,000 deaths point, criticizing the media for “being alarmist,” in the same way he has criticized those who suggest the government is undercounting COVID-19 deaths or providing contradictory and weak advice on using face masks.
“The epidemic is terrible in itself, you don’t have to add drama to it,” said López-Gatell, suggesting some media outlets were focusing on the number of deaths to sell newspapers or spark “political confrontation.”
“Putting statistics on the front page doesn’t, in my view, help much,” he said.
Mexico resembles a divided country, where some people are so unconcerned by the pandemic they won’t wear masks, while others are so scared they descend into abject terror at the first sign of shortness of breath.
Besides the trauma of the deaths, many coronavirus survivors say the psychosis caused by the pandemic is one of the most lasting effects.
With little testing being done — Mexico tests only people with severe symptoms and has performed only around 2.5 million tests in a country of 130 million — and a general fear of hospitals, many in Mexico are left to home remedies and relatives’ care.
Such is the case in the poverty-stricken Ampliación Magdalena neighborhood on Mexico City’s rough east side, where most people work off-the-books as day laborers at the city’s sprawling produce market.
The busy market was the scene of one of the first big outbreaks in the greater metropolitan area, home to 21 million people, and so early on in the pandemic local undertakers were swamped with corpses.
The local funeral home “looked like a bakery, with people lined up, with hearses lined up,” said community leader Daniel Alfredo López González. The owner of the funeral home told him some people waited to get bodies embalmed for burial while others were in the line to get their relatives’ remains cremated.
The lack of hospitals in some areas and fears of the ones that do exist, along with low levels of testing, has created a fertile breeding ground for ignorance, suspicion and fear.