Cities with few Covid-19 deaths see ARDS deaths spike

. Jun 06, 2020
Cities with few Covid-19 deaths see ARDS deaths spike Many cities in Brazil saw a spike in burials. Photo: Photocarioca/Shutterstock

Some of Brazil’s state capitals have claimed to have successfully tamed the coronavirus spread. In Minas Gerais, the governor made the rounds on TV stations claiming they had the best strategy to fight Covid-19, before temporarily reopening the capital Belo Horizonte for business. In the southern state of Santa Catarina, the city of Florinópolis just celebrated one full month without a single casualty from the pandemic. But, as we have shown time and again, there is more than meets the eye here. Capitals that claim to have “won” the war on the coronavirus are actually experiencing a surge in deaths caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome (ARDS) — which can be caused by Covid-19, but also by pneumonia or influenza.

</p> <p>Unspecified respiratory illnesses are killing 12 times more people than Covid-19 in the capitals which portray themselves as coronavirus &#8220;safe havens.&#8221; The lowest is the number of Covid-19 cases, the more ARDS victims they bury.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-scatter" data-src="visualisation/2729834" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <p>Campo Grande, for instance, had recorded only five coronavirus casualties as of May 18. But at that point, 58 patients had died from ARDS — and 55 of them since late February, when Covid-19 was first recorded in Brazil.</p> <p>In March, the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) noticed a worrisome spike in ARDS cases in Brazil. The curve had suspiciously gone up even <em>before</em> the first Covid-19 cases were confirmed, suggesting that the coronavirus may have reached the country some time before authorities first identified it.</p> <p>Marcelo Gomes, who coordinates the Fiocruz&#8217;s flu monitoring project, says that lab exams identified that many unspecified respiratory illnesses were linked to the pandemic.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2729904" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <h2>Following data on ARDS cases</h2> <p>Some states have been treating ARDS patients with no identified flu strain as suspected Covid-19 cases. Not all of them test positive, but many do. The testing patterns are not consistent throughout states. In Minas Gerais, for example, health authorities claim that this is not the moment to mass-test the population and that testing should not take place just to satisfy the curiosity of researchers.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> took data from known Covid-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in all 27 capitals (which is an indicator of how much states are testing), and crossed it out against microdata for ARDS deaths in those same cities. This database is up to date only until mid-May.</p> <p>There is a strong statistical correlation between the rate of cases per 100,000 inhabitants and the ratio between ARDS and Covid-19 deaths (r=0.84): proportionally, the bigger that ratio, the smaller the per capita Covid-19 rate is.</p> <p>That may be due to testing. The more a state tests non-severe patients, the more cases it finds out and the larger its per capita Covid rate becomes.&nbsp;</p> <p>In the Amazonian state of Amapá, the rate of tests per capita is among the highest in Brazil, with 519 out of every 100,000 inhabitants having been tested until May 15. On June 4, there were more than 1500 known cases for every 100,000 inhabitants — which means about 1.5 percent of the population has contracted the virus so far. In the capital, Macapá, there was only one ARDS death recorded for every nine Covid-19 deaths.</p> <p>That is the opposite of <a href="">what is happening in Belo Horizonte</a>, the capital of nonchalant Minas Gerais — where <a href="">testing</a> is considered some sort of perverted voyeurism. There, 9.3 ARDS deaths had been recorded for each coronavirus casualty. Until May 15, they had conducted only 78 tests for every 100,000 inhabitants.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2729942" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2729960" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <p>

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Marcelo Soares

Marcelo Soares is a Brazilian journalist specializing in data journalism and reader engagement.

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