LIMA – From the outside, they seem like just a few more buildings in the Peruvian capital, but inside, they house the biggest COVID-19 isolation facility in Peru.
Used to house elite athletes during the 2019 Pan American Games, the Pan American Village has been transformed in record time into a bastion against the pandemic for thousands of infected people.
Dozens of carriers of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, with high-risk factors that could cost them their lives, arrive daily for quarantine under medical observation at the complex, which has been converted almost overnight into the country’s largest health center with some 1,800 beds.
Its seven towers of up to 20 floors, which contain more than a thousand three-bedroom apartments have become an impregnable place, reserved only for COVID-19 cases with very specific risks, but to which EFE had access to witness its intense and sensitive activity.
Just two months ago, it was a “ghost” complex, its facilities empty and uninhabited after the departure of the 10,000 participants of the Pan American Games, America’s largest sporting event. Now, the movement of ambulances carrying patients is incessant.
In just a week, the athletes’ village for the Pan American Games has become the standard banner for Peru’s fight against the virus and its race against the clock to prevent its health system from collapsing within days. The goal is for sensitive patients who arrive here to beat the virus and not end up connected to one of the few mechanical ventilators in the country.
“It was a great opportunity because it has allowed us to react quickly and triple infrastructure,” said Fiorella Molinelli, the president of EsSalud, the public health insurance system, which started the 572-bed emergency for COVID-19 patients that now has almost 5,000.
“We wouldn’t have been able to achieve that without the Pan American Village, which allows us to attack the disease early, when the patient is just infected and not when he is already serious in an intensive care unit,” she added.
“I arrived on Monday, when I was detected the disease. My family is also infected and they’re quarantined at home, but I was moved here because I’m diabetic and hypertensive,” one of the patients, Larry Lynch, commandant general of the Peruvian Volunteer Fire General Corps, told EFE.
The national fire chief is not the only public official in the village. A total of 129 police officers and 98 health workers have also been isolated in the complex.
About 2,600 patients have been brought to the center since it opened on March 30. Of these, approximately 1,600 were discharged after a successful recovery, while only 11 had to go into intensive care.
For every patient isolated in this facility, five other people have been prevented from being infected, bringing the total to 13,000, according to EsSalud’s estimates.
Currently, there are about a thousand patients in the Village, which started with two towers with more than 400 beds, but soon doubled its capacity with two more towers in the face of the virus’s advance in Peru, the second most affected country in Latin America, with almost 90,000 cases until Saturday, of which more than 2,500 have died.
If necessary, the seven towers will be set up to reach 3,000 beds.
“That’s more than twice the capacity of any high-complexity hospital in Peru,” Molinelli said.
“It’s a fairly comprehensive model. Each floor has 24-hour nurses and that changes the patient’s emotional perspective, especially if their situation is uncertain. Here you know someone is going to be attentive and respond quickly,” she added.
A team of 700 health professionals – including doctors, nurses and technicians – are in charge of the patients in the complex. Their month-long work regime includes two weeks of patient-care and two more weeks of self-quarantine there, followed by a week to visit their families.
However, the Pan American Village does not end there. In front of the seven towers, a field hospital with 100 beds has been installed for patients requiring constant monitoring and oxygen treatment. The first patients are expected to arrive this week and another three such hospitals will be set up.
With the pandemic, the Pan American athletes’ village has had a use no one could have imagined when it began to be built three years ago for the 2019 sporting event with the idea that later the apartments would be marketed as the great urban project that would change the landscape of the southern periphery of the city.
Some houses were awarded to the Peruvian medalists of the Games, but they had not yet been handed over and Molinelli believes that this experience has served to demonstrate the great utility in health care that this facility can have.
“My dream is that it becomes a care home for older people to have a dignified aging. In Peru, there are a large number who need hospitalization for months and with that, hospital capacity is reduced. They are long-term patients that need to be attended to while others are in line,” Molinelli said.
In the meantime, the fight against coronavirus is still underway and EsSalud plans to apply the same system in other parts of the country, especially in the regions hardest hit by the pandemic, with isolation centers in sports venues and field hospitals where hospital infrastructure has already collapsed.