From Ecuador to NYC

The ties that bind.

Matt George

Globalization has made the world small. There are huge benefits to this- information, goods, and services are traveling across the globe at hyper-speed. Paradoxically, a virus, like COVID-19 also benefits. Since the Silk Road, we’ve been the primary carriers of information, precious goods, and disease.


This week my friend Matt Carpenter-Arevalo came on the podcast to talk about why Ecuador has been hit so hard by the pandemic.

First and foremost, when the country’s financial system collapsed in 1999 due to bankers and regulators working together to undermine the system’s safeguards, there were two primary consequences: the country adopted the US dollar as its official currency to control hyperinflation, and over a million Ecuadorians migrated abroad in search of work.

Where did Ecuadoreans go? Primarily to Spain, Italy and New York City; three hot zones for COVID-19. These immigration routes have been wide-open ever since, with strong cultural ties being formed between each nation and it’s people respectively. In fact, Patient 0 in the coastal city of Guayaquil was a woman who had recently returned from Spain (this time of year it’s Carnaval, a celebration many Ecuadorean ex-pats return home for).

In Ecuador, Guayaquil is the hot zone. Roughly 70% of all confirmed cases to date in the country have been found in the coastal city.

As pointed out by the PhD Candidate Arduino Tomasi in his statistical analysis of COVID-19’s spread in Guayaquil, the city’s vulnerability to a pandemic rests in a number of pre-existing conditions.

According to Tomasi, Guayaquil suffers from high percentages of residents who lack basic services such as running water and indoor sanitation services. People without basic services are forced to interact with others more so than others, meaning that their probability of contracting or spreading disease is necessarily higher than Ecuadorians who live in other cities.

Tomasi goes on to point out that even before COVID-19, Guayaquil, when compared to major cities in Ecuador, had the lowest number of public hospital beds per capita and the largest gap between the availability of private versus public medical services.

Matt and I have more in common than we once thought. In 2015 I was abroad doing relationship building for UNB and I ended up in Guayaquil. Twice in 90 days, yes, twice, I needed medical attention and it was obvious from the inside that the system could easily be overwhelmed. Was I well taken care of? Yes. Would the system be ready to absorb, triage and treat 70% of the country’s COVID patients? No.

The results have been grim and sad.

Guayaquil regularly registers temperatures above 90 degrees. With authorities slow to scale their ability to recover bodies, family members often have no choice but to remove their deceased loved ones from their houses.

Guayaquil is not alone. There is a clear class divide between the hourly workers, medical professionals and grocery store employees on the front-lines and those of us able to earn salary and work from home. As they always are, the pandemic and the economic crisis that comes after will hit the most vulnerable the hardest.

It’s easy to feel useless in the face of crises. Especially if you’re a pandemic 1-percenter. If you can, give. If you can’t, share the incredible work of heroes like the unbelievably impressive Chef Jose Andres and the World Central Kitchen team. For what it’s worth, I’m sending love to Matt, his new family and all of my friends in Guayaquil.

The 21st century is very unsettling.

See you soon,

Matt