What is it like to live in a Protected City against the coronavirus | Luján is one of the 39 districts that have the entire population registered with a dose of the vaccine

By the entrance to Luján from Route 6 you can see stalls: “potato chips”, oranges “at a good price”. Already with the domes of its emblematic Basilica in the background, the city shows an atypical movement. Its open businesses, many people in the streets – all with chinstraps – and moderate traffic, speak of the new status: Since Tuesday 13 Luján is a “protected city” against the coronavirus pandemic. There are already 31 localities with that rank in the province of Buenos Aires.

“Here 98 percent of those enrolled in the vaccination plan are immunized with the first dose, and 83 percent of the target population has already been vaccinated, “explains Mayor Leonardo Boto in the interview with Page 12. It refers to those over 18 years of age with risk factors, plus teachers, health and security personnel.

The city is the head of a district that has more than 130,000 inhabitants, among the towns of Carlos Keen, Jáuregui, Olivera, Open Door, Cortinez and Torres. It is part of the third cordon of the metropolitan area: “It is the end of the suburbs or the beginning of the interior of the country”, defines Boto. And the socioeconomic composition includes a high percentage of older adults, along with middle sectors and workers in agriculture, industry and commerce.

Along with the agricultural sector that consolidates its evolution in “400 years of history” is “tourism of faith.” Its most resonant feature, the engine that energizes its profile. Although the auto parts, textile and food industry continued to operate since the openings allowed it, “a third of the economy is driven by trade and faith tourism,” explains Boto. Around the Basilica there is a high level of informal economy: pochocleros and santeros that complement the circuit of restaurants and hotels. “A year without visitors was dramatic for Luján”Boto laments.

On San Martín street, the large square in front of the Basilica is empty. It appears larger, illuminated by the midday sun. Only a few people go through it. In front of the Basilica there are a dozen stalls of santeros. Very few compared to the 117 that were installed in times before the coronavirus. Romina takes care of her family’s stand. “The worst was when they all began to be infected, and people died, there were many cases,” he says. She didn’t get it, neither did her parents. “But they did not come to attend more. Although they already have the two doses,” he adds.

“In quarantine the Basilica was closed, then we returned. But we had to stop going out again, in the second wave,” Romina graphs about the measures. “And we came back again,” he is happy. He wears a uniform, white smock, blue bib. From the Society of Santeros. In addition to the 117 stalls for santeros, the square lacks another similar number of stalls with toys, flowers, hats, food. Romina misses them, but admits that given “the uncertainty of contagion”, the best are the measures.

Public health

Luján reported 650 infections per week, at the highest peak, this May. The protection strategy then adjusted the quarantine mechanisms: returned to confinement. But vaccination was intensified. “The flow of vaccines was assured a month ago,” they explain from the municipality. That allowed for 1,600 applications per day, district wide. And achieve the new status: have the entire population registered, vaccinated.

It works with a crisis committee that was expanded since April, to implement protocols that allow activities to be carried out safely. With a public health system strengthened since last year – from 8 therapy beds to 35 – and a high level of vaccination, the city of the patron virgin of Argentina, of the roads, of the countryside, of the railways, and the Federal Police, managed to control the second pandemic wave, lower the level of lethality and shorten the stay in therapy, especially in young people, who report the longest hospitalizations.

The health system is sustained by public management. “Nobody goes to the private here, everyone to the public” confirms Romina. He explains it “because of the human quality, which is needed these days.” From the mayor’s office they confirm that the Hospital Nuestra Señora de Luján imposed a strict discipline to control cases, carry out tests and monitor the devices in places far from the center. Neighborhood vaccination and case detection operations join two large vaccination centers. And they work for the whole party.

This Thursday, in the San Cayetano neighborhood square, the operation includes calendar vaccinations and health checks, as well as dog castration. The new status allows it. About thirty people are waiting to neuter their pets. They are more than in a flu vaccination trailer. Alma is 10 years old, wears a chinstrap and brought “Pepa’s puppies” to give up for adoption. His mother is in the castration trailer, with Pepa. In another sector of the square there is a Citizen’s Point to do paperwork: ANSES, PAMI, UPCN: the State, decentralized, in action.

Alma wears a chinstrap: “The virus scares me a little, see if you catch it!”. At school “the lady wears a mask.” They wear chinstraps, “less in gymnastics”. He likes to wear a chinstrap. “We are few, because of the bubble. We are afraid, but we take care of ourselves,” he says.

The response of the population to the health campaign “had to do with fear,” says Romina, the santera. “That’s why now people get vaccinated, and take care of themselves. It’s fine now,” he insists. “There was awareness in the people – says the mayor – it was understood that no one is anyone’s enemy.” It is in this spirit that the crisis committee worked. In dialogue with commerce – two thirds of the structure is moved by family businesses and SMEs – and with Civil Defense.

“Today in the isolation center we do not have people, thanks to the work that is carried out throughout the party,” says Adrián Feijo, head of Civil Defense. Last year, the area was in charge of closing and controlling the movement at the entrances of each town, in this party crossed by three national routes: 5, 6 and 7. Only Luján has more than twenty incomes. It was important for traffic control, explains Feijo, the communication network with industrial parks and shops. “The community gathered in their defense. They caught up with that idea. And the city protected itself,” Feijo sentenced.

The vaccination center

Lina is 20 years old. He leaves the sports center vaccination center with his certificate. It was Sputnik. He studies speech therapy at the UBA. “Now virtual”, you can do it from home, you like that. He also likes the response the city gave to “take care of yourself and the other,” he says. “I think there is a new consciousness, which emerged with this,” he reflects. However, on the same sidewalk, a married couple of elderly people, Celia and José, speak with Raúl, another neighbor. They are retired. They came to see when their second dose is due. They demand that young people be vaccinated and that young people do not take care of themselves. “Some drink mate one by one, but others … pass the mate!” Celia says, annoyed. But he admits: “we can still go out and come here to ask everything, this is important.”

“There is a little more conscience” already contributes in the queue of the entrance Gerónimo Otranto. He is a musician, he plays the guitar. Is happy. Today he is vaccinated. “Being protected is taking care of the other, that was encouraged and people took it seriously. At least in the bubbles where I am,” he says. Think of your parents and your grandparents. Evaluate the controls: “express PCR, the diffusion of care”. And he exclaims: “It’s a pandemic, it’s not bullshit!”

When Geronimo arrives at the table of the triageIt will be attended by Mariana Cáseres, coordinator of the center. From Monday to Monday and in shifts, 150 people are vaccinated per hour. “More spontaneous demand”, clarifies Cáseres. His favorite pubic is older adults: “all very grateful.” “Young people have more pressure, some faint, their pressure goes down,” he says.

With more than 100,000 people vaccinated, the Luján party remains in Phase 3: outdoor activities, shops until 8 pm, and 30 percent capacity for theaters and cinemas. Now the strategy is to reach the youngest, they explain in the municipality.

In the square of the Basilica, a young man walks his dog. He is 26 years old. He does not wear a chinstrap. “The thing is that I went out to walk the dog, and I thought I would not talk to anyone,” he tells this newspaper. His dog is called Ciro, he is Nicolás. “My whole family was vaccinated, I’m going to do it, but I’m not in a hurry. The pandemic made us stop,” he says, “made us see that we don’t control everything, we live day by day, it changed everything.” Say goodbye fast. She covers her nose and mouth with her scarf and adds: “It’s great to be a well-kept city.”

Susana and two friends come from the Basilica. They walk fast. They are the only three tourists visible this afternoon. “We came to show her,” he tells this newspaper, and points to one of his companions who wears a chinstrap. animal print. “Now we are going to eat nearby, there is a very nice traditional restaurant,” he says. It does not ignore the status of a protected city, and adds: “we are leaving immediately, we came for a little while, we must continue to take care of ourselves.”

“Awareness and respect for collective care”

The pandemic was hostile in Luján, the third cordon in the metropolitan area. “What happens in CABA affects here” explains Mayor Leonardo Boto. “The contagion peaks of last winter weigh on the memory of the locals. Also the second wave, which in April had its greatest impact in the region,” he refers to the epidemiological history that played in favor of the change in health status. “We went down the level of cases, hand in hand with vaccination,” says Boto, “and the decline was steep and rapid.”

The health system, which in Luján is municipal, gave an immediate response. There are primary care centers in each locality and a central hospital. “We seek to strengthen the Public Hospital and we went from 8 therapy beds to 36. There were 5 of our own respirators, today there are more than 35,” he points out. Due to the management between the health of the Province and the Nation, the municipality increased the care capacity and intensified vaccination and controls.

“There was conscience and respect. People accepted it, despite social fatigue, because those who suffered the most as time went by were the commercial sectors,” warns the mayor. To achieve this “we seek to be close to the neighbors, to cope with it, and learn to live with the virus – detail -. We put together a circuit of care for people that is linked to collective care. With Civil Defense, in dialogue with commerce and banks, and we define strategies to carry out activities safely “.

The recipe includes “an initial total closure, and from there plan openings, for everything, even in religious services. First in the open air, then with capacity.” In the city of the Virgin, from mass to confession “everything was respecting the health needs that we have as a community,” Boto shares. Acts such as the use of holy water or receiving communion were even modified: “Today the host is delivered in the hand,” he describes. In front of his desk, the image of Mary guards that office.


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