Mexican president urges calm after jump in reported deaths

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador waves to supporters in Lazaro Cardenas, Quintana Roo state, Mexico, Monday, June 1, 2020. Amid a pandemic and the remnants of a tropical storm, President Lopez Obrador kicked off Mexico's return to a "new normal" Monday with his first road trip in two months as the nation began to gradually ease some virus-inspired restrictions. (AP Photo/Victor Ruiz)

MEXICO CITY - Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador asked the country to remain calm Thursday a day after health officials announced more than 1,000 new COVID-19 deaths, a figure that was more than double the previous toll reported in a single day.

The reason for the sudden jump in deaths was attributable to a number of factors, including confirmation and inclusion of deaths stretching back as far as 25 days, health officials said. But the country is also passing through the epidemic’s most critical moment with a dramatically increasing number of confirmed and suspected infections.

“Let there not be psychosis, let there not be fear,” López Obrador said Thursday from Chiapas, while also accusing the press of fanning fears.

The jump in reported deaths came in the first week after the federal government’s official social distancing period ended as the president continued a week-long tour trying to reactivate the economy. López Obrador said he would recommend tightened measures if there is a surge in infections.

On Wednesday evening, undersecretary of health Hugo López-Gatell said during his nightly news conference that the government was reporting 1,092 additional deaths. He noted delays in processing tests and unspecified other reasons.

“We have had a very substantial increase in mortality,” he said.

The number of new confirmed cases rose by 3,912, pushing Mexico’s total past 101,000 confirmed cases and more than 11,000 deaths. Both figures are considered substantial undercounts because of Mexico's low rate of testing.

Mexico has largely seen daily death tolls of 300 to 400, after seeing the previous one-day high of 501 deaths May 26. The health ministry did not immediately respond to a request for additional information Thursday.

Dr. Mauricio Rodríguez, a professor at Mexico’s National Autonomous University’s medical school, said there could be a number of explanations for the sudden jump in deaths.

The federal government depends on reporting from the states and from different branches of the public health system and there are often delays, he said. There are also delays at the laboratories and hospitals themselves, especially as the country’s caseload increases significantly. Medical staff in hospitals are going to devote more time to treating the patients in front of them rather than submitting the data that is collected for the federal government, he said, noting that most medical records are still handwritten.

Significant jumps in death statistics have been seen in other countries during the pandemic.

But asked if Wednesday’s number was just an anomaly, Rodríguez said Mexico could see similar totals in coming days.

“I believe that we are in a stage of the epidemic in which we are probably going to be seeing that type of number daily during this week, maybe the next,” Rodríguez said.

“When there are more cases, there are going to be more deaths,” Rodríguez said. “We can’t be afraid to say that."

Rodríguez and government officials say that deaths are an indication of what was happening with the epidemic days in the past, following the start of a person’s illness, their hospitalization and ultimately their death. For the current state of affairs, hospital occupancy and active cases tend to be better indications.

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AP writer María Verza in Mexico City contributed to this report.


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