Neither dead nor alive, Sao Paulo, megalopolis paralyzed by Covid-19

His name is Rafael. At 29, he is a young Brazilian in the prime of his life. He has a black beard and curly brown hair. We can easily imagine him in his daily life, working, happy perhaps. We imagine him, one day soon, going out for a drink with friends in town, traveling through his great country. But intubated in critical condition after contracting Covid-19, Rafael is now balancing between life and death.

At the Brasilandia hospital in Sao Paulo, there are dozens like him, sick, unconscious, resting under the white light of rooms without windows. Cables pierce their bodies, tubes sink down their throats to their trachea. Along the beds, the doctors pass. Return the sick. Sometimes protect their eyelids, by taping a gauze there. The ears are left free. “We don’t know … maybe they hear us”, whispers a person in charge of the place.

In the intensive care units of this municipal public hospital, located in the north of the megalopolis, the reality of Covid-19 is starkly spread: grim, incomprehensible. Opened urgently at the start of the epidemic, Brasilandia is today entirely devoted to the only war against the epidemic. It has 406 beds for this, of which 188 are available in intensive care. Finally, “Available” is a big word: the occupancy rate here is around 95%.

The “capital of the pandemic”

In two months, hospitalizations exploded. “Newcomers are getting younger, healthier, without any co-morbidities. Their condition deteriorates very quickly ”, comments Jair Francisco, 45, head nurse in one of the intensive care units. As proof: a panel fixed to the wall at the entrance of a room, where the ages of the patients are recorded. None is over 60 years old. “It’s hard, really hard to see that. We have to hang on to life, to those who escape this virus… ”, Jair articulates, his voice broken with emotion.

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These sick young people with tortured bodies are like Sao Paulo: the economic and cultural lung of Brazil, a colossus of iron and concrete with 12 million inhabitants (double the number including the suburbs) today has both knees down and heartbroken. The number of weekly Covid-19 deaths in the city has doubled in a month. Since the start of the epidemic, the city has lost more than 21,000 of its own.

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