Mariano Rivas, a volunteer, writes the number of Covid-19 patients and available beds on a blackboard. At Ezeiza Hospital, doctors and nurses hold their breath and pray they can avoid a catastrophic overflow of cases.
The Hospital Zonal General de Agudos Dr. Alberto Antranik Eurnekian's intensive care unit is currently at 80 percent capacity, a combination of Covid-19 cases and other non-related ailments that typically arrive during Winter.
“The hospital is equipped and people are trained,” assures the hospital's director, Juan Manuel Ciruzzi.
However, Ciruzzi acknowledges that the hospital has physical limitations when it comes to the number of beds and potential overflow. Because of this, he says it's important for quarantine measures to be adjusted in order to decrease community circulation.
"The issue is for the demand not to exceed the response capacity. Overflow would be the definition of catastrophe,” he says.
The rooms and corridors look impeccable, doctors and nurses have protective equipment, and they seem to be in good spirits.
However, there is a looming fear of being overwhelmed if the curve of contagion does not flatten.
"The concern is that the system will collapse at some point, preventing us from being able to follow our training and disrupting how the hospital is used to treating patients,” says Doctor Analía Mondo.
Latin America is currently the epicentre of the global coronavirus pandemic. Argentina has managed to contain the spread of the virus better than many of its neighbours. Mandatory confinement was swiftly decreed on March 20, with 128 infected and three dead from Covid-19.
More than 100 days on, with more than 80,000 infections and around 1,400 deaths, many provinces are taking steps to ease restrictions. The lockdown remains tight, however, in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area (AMBA), where where more than 90 percent of new infections are concentrated.
Before the arrival of Covid-19, Argentina had a ratio of five beds and four doctors per 1,000 inhabitants which places the country above others in Latin America, according to the World Health Organisation.
For intensive care units, the country had about 8,000 beds, 70 percent of which operated with respirators, a monitor and medical and nursing personnel, according to the the Sociedad Argentina de Terapia Intensiva ("Argentine Intensive Care Society").
Since the arrival of the virus, new equipment has been purchased, medical personnel have been trained, and field hospitals have been installed. The occupancy of intensive care beds is currently at 50.1 percent nationwide and 55.7 percent in the AMBA region, home to some 14 million people.
Attention and care
Ezeiza Hospital went from 8 to 30 intensive care beds, with another 30 for moderate cases. In an area outside the main building, a 120-bed structure was erected to house and quarantine patients with mild symptoms of the coronavirus who cannot be isolated at home.
In total, 70 physicians are assigned to care for those who have tested positive or are suspected of having Covid-19, in groups that rotate every week.
A team of volunteers, of around 40 people, work 24 hours a day centralising information on the number of available beds, test results, and contact tracing.
Silvina Falcón, 62, came to Ezeiza Hospital for gastrointestinal pain, but tested positive for Covid-19. She is now receiving oxygen, being cared for by staff.
“There is good care, the nurses treat me well, they pamper me,” says the wife and mother of three, thankful for the help.