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Coronavirus

Brazil's Overrun ICUs Show How Virus Spreads Across Nation

The South American nation has the second highest number of coronavirus fatalities in the world (after the United States), and with ICU beds in short supply, the death toll will continue to rise.

An intensive care unit in Manaus, Brazil
An intensive care unit in Manaus, Brazil

In raw COVID-19 numbers, Brazil is the second hardest hit country in the world, after the United States, as the case total at two million and death toll reaching 75,000. On ground level, new reports are surfacing of local hospital intensive care units hurtling towards a breaking point that could further accelerate fatalities. For the vast nation of 209 million, the rolling emergencies at ICUs shows how wide the crisis is spreading:

Collapse: In at least five state capitals, ICUs are on the verge of collapse, the daily Correio Braziliense reports.

  • Some 97% of all adult ICU beds were taken in Florianópolis, one of the hardest-hit cities at the moment. State authorities have recently added 570 beds, but demand continues to rise.

  • In Belo Horizonte, Brazil's sixth-largest city, only a handful of beds are available — and some hospitals are simply unable to admit any more patients, according to O Tempo.

  • The situation is even more critical in the central-southern city of Cuiabá, near the border with Bolivia, where municipalities around the capital are unable to cope with the rising patient numbers, the Belo Horizonte-based newspaper Estado de Minas notes. For more than 10 days, no beds have been available, and although neighboring states are stepping in to help, the waiting list for a hospital bed is now 100 patients long — and growing.

A medical worker at a hospital in Sorocaba, Brazil — Photo: Cadu Rolim/Fotoarena/ZUMA

Spread: Unlike in Spain or Italy, where the pandemic was concentrated in certain areas and spared much of the territory, in Brazil (as in the United States) the virus has spread virtually nationwide, with severe clusters flaring up in new and different parts of the country.

  • The country's largest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, were hit first. Then, in May, the epidemic began ravaging Manaus, in the northern Amazonas state. In those areas, the peak of the crisis — "the days of patients in corridors, alongside bodies," as BBC Brasil reported — appears to have passed. But other outbreaks have since popped up in the south and the center of the country, perhaps because of falling temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere winter.

  • For patients who are being left out in the cold, hospital saturation has life or death implications. But as BBC Brasil points out, the situation in any given hospital says as much about the number of beds each state provides as it does about the state of the outbreak itself. Some cities are being ravaged by the epidemic but their hospitals are coping.

  • Porto Alegre, Brazil's southernmost state capital, is a case in point. There, as Lúcio Botelho, a public health professor at the Federal University of Santa Caterina, told the network: "The epidemic is spreading, but the occupation of beds is low." For now, at least. The numbers of new cases are indeed spiking there after authorities eased quarantine measures on May 20. "What we expected is happening," said Eduardo Sprinz, head of Infectious Diseases at Porto Alegre's Hospital de Clínicas. "We're reaping what we sowed."

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Future

Injecting Feminism Into Science Is A Good Thing — For Science

Feminists have generated a set of tools to make science less biased and more robust. Why don’t more scientists use it?

As objective as any man

Anto Magzan/ZUMA
Rachel E. Gross

-Essay-

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, a mystery played out across news headlines: Men, it seemed, were dying of infection at twice the rate of women. To explain this alarming disparity, researchers looked to innate biological differences between the sexes — for instance, protective levels of sex hormones, or distinct male-female immune responses. Some even went so far as to test the possibility of treating infected men with estrogen injections.

This focus on biological sex differences turned out to be woefully inadequate, as a group of Harvard-affiliated researchers pointed out earlier this year. By analyzing more than a year of sex-disaggregated COVID-19 data, they showed that the gender gap was more fully explained by social factors like mask-wearing and distancing behaviors (less common among men) and testing rates (higher among pregnant women and health workers, who were largely female).

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