Coronavirus thrives in Karabakh’s bomb shelters

Close quarters, poor ventilation and no masks: in the cellars of Stepanakert, the capital of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh province, residents who have not fled fierce fighting may be safe from shelling, but not coronavirus.

Adjoining basements beneath one unassuming three-storey building in the city have been repurposed as a bomb shelter, where residents  are seeking refuge from frequent bouts of shelling by Azerbaijan’s forces, including on Friday evening. 

The majority of Stepanakert’s 60,000 residents fled after fighting erupted late last month between separatists in the Armenian-majority mountainous region and the Azerbaijani army.

The largest room in the basement — around 50 square metres with a ceiling lower than 2 metres (6.5 feet) — serves as the sleeping quarters.

Around ten mattresses and blankets are placed on stone benches built against the walls and the earthen floor is carpeted with cardboard boxes.

A few dim lamps hang from the ceiling over an ageing wood stove in the middle of the room, its chimney running to an outside wall.

Lusine Tovmasyan used to run a medical testing centre in Stepanakert.

But when fighting erupted four weeks ago, the 44-year-old began working for the health authorities, carrying out coronavirus tests at the city’s main hospital or at the homes of residents unable to travel. 

On Friday morning she arrived at the building to test two women aged 63 and 76 thought to be possibly infected.

Bundled up in a coat, the older woman waits to be swabbed, sitting on a chair in the middle of the dormitory cellar. 

– ‘High infection rate’ –

She coughs and groans when a cotton swab is pushed up her nose and then down her throat. 

The sixty-year-old woman with a shawl over her shoulders is tested in the living room of her apartment on the ground floor and experiences similar discomfort, muttering a few words in a weak voice and grimacing.

“We do an average of 60 tests per day,” says Tovmasyan, the only person among a half-dozen women in the cellar to be wearing a mask. 

“The infection rate is quite high,” she says because “people are living in groups in basements without masks”.

“Between 40 and 60 percent of people test positive. It depends on the day”.

After swabs are processed in the Armenian capital Yerevan — around four hours away by road — Tovmasyan says health workers compile lists of whose returned positive and the people they were in contact with.

There is no testing at an infectious diseases clinic near the central hospital in Stepanakert, but the facility does treat patients with coronavirus symptoms.

Nurses are busy in one of the wards administering intravenous drips for three seated and masked men.

Samvel Galstyan, 62, doesn’t know whether or not he has coronavirus. He came to the facility because he had “a high temperature”.

“It’s cold in the basement. You go to bed and get up without changing your clothes. You can’t stay there so you come in and out often. Hot,

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Trump calls Fauci a “disaster” but says it would be “a bigger bomb to fire him”

In a call with Trump campaign staff Monday, President Trump tore into the nation’s leading infectious diseases expert and coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci, saying people have become tired of “Fauci and all these idiots” warning about the risks of COVID-19.

“People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots, these people, these people that have gotten it wrong,” the president told his staff Monday during a call on the state-of-play of the race. “Fauci’s a nice guy. He’s been here for 500 years. He called every one of them wrong. And he’s like this wonderful guy, a wonderful sage, telling us how he said, ‘do not wear face masks’ — that’s a number of months ago.” 

Mr. Trump said if the White House had listened to Fauci, the U.S. would have “500,000 deaths.” 

The president went on to declare, “We saved 2.2 million people. If we didn’t do what we did, and close it and do just — now we’re opening it. But we’d never close it again. It would never close, it’ll never close again. Because we know the disease,” an apparent reference to his partial ban on travel to the U.S. from China early this year.

“But Fauci, if we listened to him, we’d have 700-, 800 thousand deaths right now,” the president said.

Since the pandemic began, more than 8 million Americans have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than 219,000 have died.

At the beginning of the outbreak, Fauci recommended against routinely wearing masks, but that was in part because he was concerned there would be a shortage of surgical masks for healthcare workers. A month later, he reversed course after scientists were finding that people without symptoms were a significant source of spread, and masks, even homemade ones, could help stop transmission. 

“It became clear that cloth coverings — … and not necessarily a surgical mask or an N95 —cloth coverings, work. So, now there’s no longer a shortage of masks,” Fauci said in an interview with CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jonathan LaPook on “60 Minutes.” He added that “meta-analysis studies show that, contrary to what we thought, masks really do work in preventing infection.”

While Fauci has been consistently calling for the use of masks for months, the White House messaging on mask-wearing has been less consistent. Mr. Trump and White House officials do not always wear masks, even at crowded events like Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination, which Fauci has called a “super-spreader” event. He told LaPook that he’s not surprised the president contracted coronavirus given his participation at crowded events where few people wore masks. 

The president continued to go after Fauci Monday after the campaign call concluded and he apparently saw coverage of the call, slamming Fauci for not being great at — baseball.

“Dr.Tony Fauci says we don’t allow him to do television, and yet I saw him last night on @60Minutes, and he seems to get more airtime

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