The last trip Mr. Jesús Rubén Lagunas did at sunset.
The sun was falling on the road and he remembered his years as a teacher, as an artist.
A while before, he had walked out of his house in Toluca, the capital of the State of Mexico, and had already said goodbye to everyone.
"Bye, Ring," he also said to the German shepherd he was caring for.
He barely had any oxygen left in the tank, but he arrived at the Atlacomulco General Hospital seeing the fields burned and the cows dozing.
"He loved traveling by car," says his granddaughter Kristel Martínez.
Both had been on pilgrimage for several days trying to find a free bed in a hospital in Toluca.
It was January.
“There are no beds or oxygen.
Just like your grandfather, many people of the same age come and we cannot attend to them ”, was the response of a person in charge of the Institute of Security and Social Services of State Workers (ISSSTE) a couple of days before.
Rubén Lagunas was 95 years old, covid-19, 60% of the lung was damaged, a small oxygen tank in which there was hardly any left and a saturation of 75%.
He passed away on January 17 and the dog howled.
The State of Mexico is the entity where the highest number of people have died from coronavirus, according to official figures.
Conacyt indicates that 29,068 citizens have died there and that 218,962 cases have been registered.
These numbers also make the State governed by the PRI Alfredo del Mazo in the second place in the country with the highest lethality due to the virus, only behind Puebla.
One in seven people who contracted the disease in the state has died.
Officially, in neighboring Mexico City 1,000 fewer people have died and they have more than 560,000 registered cases.
This indicator is in addition to the usual ones: the State of Mexico is one of the most populated and poorer areas in Mexican territory.
With two large cities, Ecatepec and Toluca, an hour from the capital, which account for the highest number of cases and deaths, and a hundred rural municipalities with a western movie landscape, the disease has become a death trap.
“We have an important universe of older adults.
We are a population with comorbidities: hypertension, heart disease and diabetes.
We are a country with obesity.
All these factors have combined to create such a significant number of cases in the State ”, reasons Víctor Durán, deputy director of Epidemiology at the Health Institute of the State of Mexico (ISEM).
Just a year ago, on February 29, the first positive case of covid-19 was detected in the entity.
It was the second of the Republic.
It was about a man from Tlalnepantla who had traveled to Italy.
He was asymptomatic.
Since then, the spiral of cases began to grow and devastate populations.
“We never got off our first big wave.
In August and September, we had a sharp decline, but the curve never flattened out.
As of October, the second peak began and it was more intense than the first, ”Dr. Durán tells EL PAÍS.
The tragedy reached its peak in January, after the Christmas holidays.
At that time the teacher Emma Longinos, from Santiago Tianguistenco, left;
Jorge, an intern at the Ecatepec hospital, and his father;
Noé's grandparents, who lived in El Oro;
Mr. Jesús Lagunas, who had to go to die far from home, Carmela's parents.
All of them died in hospitals and their names are included in the official death records for covid-19.
However, the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi) revealed in its latest report that the State of Mexico is the entity with the highest excess mortality in the entire country in 2020. Only from January to August 83,456 more people died than the last year.
The Inegi does count those who died at home, on the street.
Facing illness without work or savings
This year, Yazmín and Gisela Mejía's family got used to eating tortillas with salt every day.
Well, there was no more.
The clothing factory where Gisela worked closed due to the coronavirus.
They speak to him at times, but he has been since November without a single shift.
Yazmín is a nurse, but she stopped practicing to take care of her children.
In his house, still damaged by the 2017 earthquake, only the ground floor can be used.
There is a room where the women and the four children sleep, a small patio where they cook with wood and a room with bare walls.
They sit serious, friendly, at a table with a satin tablecloth, a Bible, and a fruit bowl with oranges and bananas.
"They go cheap now," they offer.
The children run around, come and go, teach their homework and their newborn kittens, call the dog, ask for the cell phone.
“What hurts me the most is not being able to feed my children,” says Yazmín, who cries because this year she had to explain to them that the Kings could not reach their home in Xalatlaco, a few kilometers from the forests they go to. the capitals on Sundays.
This year, he told them, the Kings had to distribute gel and face masks because people were getting very sick.
The two sisters, orphans and single mothers, caught coronavirus in the first wave and are still suffering from the aftermath.
This year they had to see how the disease took away one of their last relatives.
Teacher Emma Longinos, 59, the Mejía's aunt in law and the woman who became queen on January 6 when she brought some toys to the children.
10-year-old Tahili still flaunts her blonde doll.
Longinos was infected with coronavirus with his partner, and the family spent fortnights of the pension on the treatments, in search of a center that would save them.
The nightmare of the coronavirus in the State of Mexico, in images
On January 20, he arrived without oxygen at the Social Security Institute of the State of Mexico and Municipalities (ISSEMYM) of Toluca.
The last 500 pesos (about $ 25) were spent on the outward journey.
“It will take three or four days for her to be admitted because there are no beds.
There are no beds, they told me.
She came with 60% saturation.
They told me to put her in a wheelchair and there she would have to wait for days.
His lungs were destroyed, he already had pneumonia in both of them, ”Yazmín says desperately.
"What do I do, Diosito?
My God, help me.
Help me, ”he yelled.
"Yes I yelled at him."
A doctor learned about the case and found a bed within hours.
The teacher Longinos was hospitalized for days, but did not survive the virus.
They had no money left to pay the thousands of pesos that a funeral now costs.
It was cremated.
Yazmín made an altar for him with a bobbin, candles, a white tablecloth, chrysanthemums and a figure of San Martín Caballero.
In that same hospital for state workers, in that same room with glass walls and metal chairs, Miguel Ángel Martínez and his son Araham, both suffering from covid, waited to be treated for a day and a half.
“We knew that if we left, it was better for them.
If we wanted a bed, we had to wait, ”says this doctoral student in Canada, who came to Mexico for Christmas.
The deputy director of Epidemiology of the ISEM denies that the State of Mexico reached hospital saturation.
And it figures the occupancy levels on critical days at 86%, for general beds, and 83%, with a fan.
But the families report a strenuous struggle to get medical care.
A month later, the Martínez family receives a pink house in Toluca.
They all wear masks and masks.
They continue to respect the safety distance between them: they sleep in separate rooms, they don't touch each other, they haven't hugged each other for months.
Covid-19 entered this home full of photos of smiling family members on December 26.
It ended up infecting six of the seven members.
In the three-story house, Mr. Rubén Lagunas, his two grandchildren, Kristel and Abraham, and his son-in-law, Miguel Ángel, suffered from the disease.
The main memory is the anguish, the way of the cross to get oxygen, medication, a bed in a hospital.
Miguel Ángel entered ISSEMYM with a 30% chance of survival.
He was in bed 217 for 11 days, he came out and they applauded him, with his arm raised he shouted: "Yes it could."
“I was there and I just thought 'I have to go out and thank my family for saving me,” says Martínez, who was a teacher and was now driving a taxi.
"I was very stubborn, very skeptical, I did not believe in the covid disease, I said that they were pure stories, but when he hit me, he did it," he says and shows his hands full of wounds, also a consequence of the disease.
When he left the hospital, his father-in-law had already died in Atlacomulco.
"I hope that the story of my family can help someone to try to be alert, because the sooner they are treated, the more chances you have of recovering."
From Germany, Kristel Martínez reflects, even in the tragedy, of the privilege of her family.
“We spent 150,000 pesos in two months.
How are those who don't have it going to do it? ”He says by phone.
Now she has started a campaign in Colonia, where she works as a molecular researcher, to raise money for families in the State of Mexico in need.
The virus gives no truce
The director of the General Hospital of Atlacomulco, Antonio Cruz, has his office, the corridors, infested with cardboard boxes.
Labeled "covid-19", they contain gowns, gloves, gel, medications.
The supplies that a free hospital needs to try to cope with a health crisis that has saturated the health resources of the entire planet.
This center serves eight municipalities in the north of the State of Mexico.
"The most marginalized areas, with extreme poverty", summarizes Cruz.
It was chosen as the covid hospital in the region because it has the highest resolution capacity, "despite its deficiencies."
They have 60 beds, which during the crest of the wave were all occupied, now there are 19. Patients who do not have the right to access any other hospital come here.
They offer free oxygen, medical staff and a bed.
On many occasions they do not have the medicines, or a catheter or mechanical ventilation tubes, and relatives, who wait day and night at the door of the hospital, must go quickly to the pharmacies.
In the austere entrance, a man takes advantage of the hours to weave a flower into a napkin, cardboard and blankets for the early morning cold, and tacos for breakfast are piled up in the corners.
Noé Cruz arrived last night when his father was admitted for covid-19, Juan, 60, after 18 days with the virus.
His entire family fell ill and he lost his two grandparents.
You are now waiting for your turn on the video call.
Here a social worker equipped with a tablet connects the sick, isolated in risk areas, with their families.
They have three minutes a day.
But Fernando Miranda has left a little more.
The young man tries to convince his mother, Macaria Miguel, that they cannot take care of her at home.
"I want to go," the broken voice of the woman is heard.
“You have to stay until you stabilize.
You're really looking forward to it, but you saw how difficult it is to get oxygen.
Where the fuck are we going to get the tank?
Grab it and get out, maybe you can do it, maybe not.
This is your life, this is not a game.
Give me a hand ”, Miranda begs non-stop, who manages to put up with it for another day, now five.
“People are afraid to come and stay isolated, that is the last time they see it.
Many prefer to die at home ”, says the director of the hospital.
The center has just come out of its critical point, but the nightmare is not over.
"We are still a high-risk area, we have five hospitalizations and two deaths a day from covid-19," he says.
In January they reached seven deaths per day.
A pressure that has also taken a toll on his staff.
They lack general practitioners, emergency physicians, intensivists, and internal medicine.
Cruz, sitting behind a poster of Teotihuacán, makes a call to the doctors of the State, of the country: "We need them, we have contracts available."
All of your hospital staff have already received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
Vaccination has become the great hope of the country.
In addition to Ecatepec, the second most populated city in the country, Atlacomulco is one of the 27 rural municipalities in the State of Mexico where all older adults have already been vaccinated.
On the last Thursday of February, the town square looks quiet.
The shoe shiners fly in order, the fountain gurgles like nothing and it is market day.
Alejandra Marcial cleans the nopales and tells that the puncture hurt, but little.
On a bench with his grandson is Alfonso Gómez, 83, who says he is "somewhat better" for the vaccine, but that nothing is going to change in his life as a peasant.
Adela and her 74-year-old husband had not gone out throughout the pandemic and now thanks to the dose they are much more relaxed about going shopping.
In the square's candle shop, Mr. Arturo Ortega, 70, gives a review of what his business has been for 25 years, now run by his grandchildren.
The vaccine "psychologically" has been very good for him, for this year "so bad."
And he sums up in one sentence the thought of a country: "Let it end, this fucking pandemic is sinking us all."
The State Government now has its sights set on the next obstacle: Holy Week.
Dr. Victor Durán comments that they are anticipating and, in addition to capacity measures, rapid tests will be implemented on Good Thursday and Good Friday in what have historically been tourist destinations such as Chalma.
This year, the Stations of the Cross in the State of Mexico will continue to be marked by the ranks in antigen testing.
of EL PAÍS México and receive all the informative keys of the current situation of this country