Almost unknown spaces have remained on the shores of the maelstrom of the pandemic, places that, managed by military secrets, have gone unnoticed between hospitalization figures, active cases and the number of deaths. The sailors call them CAV, and the interns, in a good mood, covidaldeas. They are the Voluntary Isolation Centers, modules managed by the Secretariat of the Navy in Mexico City where accommodation and meals are given free of charge to those infected with covid-19 who cannot isolate themselves at home or who need a place to pass the disease . The compliments that these centers receive from the inmates (“here they pamper you”, “they are angels dressed in blue”, “the attention is very warm” or “this is ground gold”) seem to marry difficult with the strict military routine, but most of the patients have come on the recommendation of others who were before.
PHOTO GALLERY: The ‘covidaldeas’ of the Marina
The entrance to the immense San Pablo Tepetlapa naval area is a heavy white arch south of Coyoacán. Near the Los Coyotes Zoo and friendly soldiers carrying AR-15 rifles, there is a two-by-two sign advertising the center. The entrance to where to go if you are infected with the virus is more discreet, a small door in an alley at the back of the enclosure.
There, in the first filter, the Navy health personnel make sure that the patient meets the criteria for admission: be between 18 and 45 years old, with no previous pathologies, and present only mild symptoms of the disease. They are a center of isolation, not a medical one, they repeat. That’s the strict theory, but the military admits they’ve gone soft after 10 months of the virus. “We have learned to be more flexible,” says Lieutenant Romeo Alegría, the medical supervisor of one of the CAVs. That is why Marta Hortensia Albide, 70, whose husband is in serious condition, admitted for covid-19, at the Medical Center is here; Víctor Palacios, 54, whose children could not take care of him because they were taking care of his “delicate” wife because of the same virus, or Alicia Torres, 56, who was not allowed by her sister to return home once she found out she was infected .
In the welcome bag there are dark blue pajamas, flip flops, a toothbrush, with soap and paste. The sick arrived with their backpacks, some with the first thing they grabbed. On the tables there are chargers, books, tablets, notebooks and Bibles. Those who have been here the longest have made their space a corner home. Isaac Velázquez has hung a drawing of his son Iker, a letter from his wife that reads “I love you” and others with the hearts of his nieces. He owns a small sanitation company and was infected in one of the services he did at the end of January, there was a lot of work then, he says.
“It was difficult to make the decision to isolate myself here, but I did it for the family. My parents are older. I wanted to end the chain of infections, ”says this 38-year-old businessman, after nine days in the CAV. Velázquez occupies the first place on the right of a floor with 31 beds, arranged as if it were a military camp, with blue blankets and large windows. To the left is a plastic table still with leftover breakfast, cereal, tacos and the milk carton.
The building, which was used in the old normality to house the musicians of the Navy, has been transformed into two floors with space for 60 people. In this week of February there are only nine inmates, five men and four women. On the worst days, which coincided with the end of Christmas, there were 28 patients. There was still half the space left.
In total, there are 600 places for these voluntary isolation centers, but since the beginning of the pandemic they have only cared for about 1,500 patients. A very low figure compared to the saturation data for hospitals in the city. In January, the daily infections reached 20,000 people in some of the worst days.
The nine patients with this CAV have at their disposal two doctors and three nurses, who measure their vital signs three times a day, give them medication if they need it and wait behind a thick plastic curtain to see how they evolve, how they improve. Personalized attention practically impossible to obtain in this wave of cases in any other center of the city.
“All the attention they have given us has been free, at no cost. Every so often they are checking us, they are watching us. Getting here is ground gold. I’m better here than at home, ”says Víctor Palacios, who has been in the center for 14 days. “I didn’t want to come, the moment I knew I was infected, I felt desperation and didn’t even know what to do. My wife was sick and my children couldn’t take care of both of us, and I didn’t want to infect them. But from the first day I arrived, the service has been excellent, “says this driver of a golf cart from Tláhuac.
Most of the inmates of the center have other relatives infected or admitted, some even carry the weight of a death from covid-19 in their backpack. Their stories are just a sample of the trail of tragedy that the disease is leaving in Mexico, where 174,207 people have died since the start of the pandemic.
Lieutenant Ana Belem Soto is one of the doctors in this CAV. She is short, smiles with long eyes and walks fast. “Patients not only come with the symptoms of covid, they come with fear and a lot of uncertainty. Here we try to give them a space and give them security, part of their treatment is to reinforce their mood ”, she says warmly and animatedly. Alegría, the supervisor, adds: “The aim is for them to feel confident that they are cared for and that in an emergency they can be transferred to a hospital environment. Although so far it has not happened. Despite being from the Secretary of the Navy, the inmates do not feel the pressure of being in a military environment, the lieutenant believes.
The head of Government of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum, has tried to publicize these centers in her conferences. But the message still does not reach the population. The discretion of the soldiers and the fear of the infected to go into a center organized by the military without many symptoms plays against them.
“My family didn’t want me to come, they were scared,” says Miriam García, 39. She is originally from the State of Hidalgo, she came to the capital to take care of her mother when she got worse from covid-19 and she too was affected. They had to admit her mother, and García, her sister-in-law, who was also at the beginning of the pandemic in the CAV, took her to the door of Virgilio Uribe alley. Now, she cries with excitement at the care she is receiving. “They are angels dressed in blue,” she says lying down, while controlling her oxygenation. “I came here thinking that I didn’t want to die, I was afraid of drowning. I didn’t even sleep the first night, ”she says between tears, half worried about her mother and her three children. He says he is improving every day and that living with other inmates and his nights of letters and jenga make his quarantine happy.
“Sometimes we laugh so much that we say now that they are going to have to intubate us,” says Jessica Carañosa from the bed next to us. The 44-year-old archaeologist and cake decorator has already completed her two weeks at the center and talks about it almost like summer camp. “Being here is complicated by the situation of the emotional charges that we bring. You come with a squeezed heart and the soul rejects and here they pamper you. It is the best decision I could have made, I wish more people would do it ”.
Despite the coexistence, the inmates have to wear the mask at all times, they do not share any toilet utensils and they are recommended to respect the safety distance. “They are all positive, they cannot be more positive,” says Dr. Soto, although she acknowledges that they do not know what strains or viral loads each one brings.
Outside the traffic continues, gyms open, cinemas remain closed and the streets fill with terraces; while, in here, you can enjoy the morning sun in a garden sealed with yellow ribbons, “caution not to pass”, all the visitors are dressed in astronaut suits and the video calls continue. The patients, who know it well, say goodbye: “Take care, because this is very difficult.”
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.