Despite fears of the coronavirus, the Dominican Republic government went ahead and held elections this past Sunday. The elections had been suspended on February 16 due to a failure in the automated voting system, which generated an electoral political crisis. This begs the question of the lack of responsibility for its citizens, when the virus has been in the country since March 1. As communication and public health updates were limited, the majority of poverty stricken communities and areas, such as Barahona, had no idea what was about to happen in the upcoming week.
On March 1, the first case in the country and the Caribbean was confirmed. A 62-year-old man from Italy entered the country on February 22nd and fell ill on February 24th, when he was transferred to Ramon Lara military hospital. On March 6, the second case in the country was confirmed as a Canadian tourist was infected. On March 8, three more cases were confirmed. They were three Dominican tourists that came from a trip to Italy, which led to a new sum of 5 cases of COVID-19. On March 13, the Minister of Public Health confirmed six new cases, bringing the country's total to 11. All of the individuals had been outside of the country within the past 14 days. On March 16, the Minister of Public Health confirmed 10 new cases, the total confirmed cases on this date at 21. One death was announced, of a 47-year-old man with a history of previous illness (HIV and tuberculosis), who was confirmed positive, this person had come from a trip to Spain. There were pending results for 25 additional people at this time. As mentioned, the 2020 Dominican Republic general election that had originally been scheduled for February 16th was carried out with no safety measures to protect the public. As millions of citizens hit the streets to campaign, vote and celebrate, the reality of the coronavirus was merely just a joke at this point in-country.
On March 17, President Danilo Medina gave an address to the nation and declared a state of emergency, announcing a series of measures to try and stop the spread of the virus. This being something that should have been done upon the first case reaching the island. He ordered all land, sea, and air borders be closed for the next 15 days, taking effect as of March 19. Additionally, all commercial business activity would be suspended, with the exception of supermarkets, convenience stores, gas stations, and pharmacies. Schools will remain closed through April 13.
March 19 we made the decision to close the majority of our daily operations at BRP, which also means that our workshop is temporarily closed. Thankfully our founder was able to evacuate back to the United States. Some of our girls are on lockdown in their homes and we have made sure that they have enough food to get through the next 15-days. Some of our residents who live in our shelter Casa Azul are also on lockdown and are safe. The rest of our staff has been released to go home and prepare with their families.
On March 18, the Minister of Public Health confirmed thirteen new cases, bringing the country's total to 34. A second death was recorded. There are now 61 individuals under hospital supervision and 55 pending test results. On March 20, the Minister of Public Health confirmed 38 new cases, bringing the country's total to 72. As of today, March 21, the Minister of Public Health confirmed forty new cases and a new death, bringing the country's total to 112 with 3 deaths.
The timeline of events this week has left families completely unprepared. Hundreds of people flooding the propane gas stations to fill up tanks that will probably only last a few days. People simply do not have the financial resources to prepare for this type of a country wide shutdown. Government employees had access to information that was not released to the public and therefore they were able to prepare prior to the shutdown. Some of these employees felt responsible to leak private information, knowing the true reality of what was going on was far from what the public was being told. They began sending voice messages via whatsapp to warn friends and families of the true statistics and what action to take immediately. These voice messages were quickly forwarded and re-forwarded causing local panic among families and little education as to what this virus was. The pure lack of responsibility that the government has taken over the past few days has ultimately lead this country into a true health crisis that no-one is prepared for.
As an organization, all we can do is prepare. Casa Azul has been prepared to receive any of our staff and their families if they were in danger in their communities, along with any of our girls that live in their homes. We will also shelter any urgent cases that come through the Public Ministry. We have been sharing on whatsapp with our local community in Barahona information from the CDC and WHO, giving them access to the facts and information that is most important. As you can imagine, asking families to wash hands every hour or even wash hands at all is somewhat impossible when the majority of Bateyes have limited electricity, no soap and no running water. Local stores were sold out of hand soap and hand sanitizer 10 days ago. Employment opportunities locally in our region are very limited, with the majority of those relying upon a daily pay to bring food home to their families. These men and women who work in markets, construction or transportation, no longer have jobs and with the lack of education around the coronavirus, you can imagine the fear that these families are experiencing. They simply don't know what to do. We continue to remain positive and communicate with our team 24 hours a day, hoping that what help we can provide to them, they can also provide to their community.
Yesterday we launched an Emergency Relief Fund on GoFundMe. Please read through this campaign and share with your family and friends. As much as we are dealing with the daily news, we are also trying to plan ahead and secure an income outside of our sales for our staff and girls. We need access to funding so that we can purchase dry foods in bulk, and so that we can be prepared for any potential coronavirus cases or medical emergencies.
Please continue to shop! We are fully stocked and although the girls are currently no working, we are still continuing to pay our team and provide for anything and everything they should possibly need. We have lots of beautiful pieces that will be online in the next few days. Please keep our families and team in your daily prayers. As we tackle very hard times together as a global community, I truly believe that we will stand strong and come out even stronger. We will continue to post updates on our social media with regards to the Dominican Republic and COVID-19.
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