Dr. Miguel Ángel Pérez Alvarado was nervous.
The pandemic was bad enough, transporting patient after patient with Covid-19 symptoms, but it was something else that worried the veteran doctor who’d spent 11 years riding in a Mexico City public ambulance.
“At home he would say, ‘Let’s stay apart from each other.’ He wanted to keep us safe because he knew his working conditions weren’t safe,” his wife Nancy Edith Alba Cuéllar told CNN in an interview.
The father of three girls told her his ambulance crew hadn’t been given the proper protective equipment such as gloves, coveralls and masks to keep them safe. He’d complained to his bosses, she said, but they’d respond there wasn’t more money available for better supplies.
Still, he kept doing his job. It was mid-April when he started feeling sick.
By April 20, Dr. Pérez had been hospitalized with a confirmed case of Covid-19. On April 22, he typed out his last message to his family before being intubated.
‘Be very careful. I love you all,’ he texted his wife. He passed away a few days later.
Dr. Pérez was one of several dozen public paramedics who colleagues claim were infected because the government failed to supply the equipment needed against the highly infectious disease.
In response to CNN’s request for comment regarding allegations of improper PPE gear, the federal agencies that manage the paramedics said proper equipment is provided. They declined to provide numbers on how many staff have contracted Covid-19 or have died from it.
CNN interviewed seven paramedics and one doctor who work in Mexico City public ambulances, belonging to two different sections of the country’s Health Ministry. All eight said they feel a sense of betrayal because they argue the government has not helped to keep them safe.
“From the beginning we took precautions,” said Fatima Torrés, a 29-year-old paramedic who tested positive for the virus. “But we didn’t have much material to avoid contamination.”
‘I don’t know anyone who goes to work and isn’t afraid’
Mexico is suffering through the worst days of the epidemic so far, with 129,184 confirmed cases and 15,357 confirmed deaths as of Wednesday, though health officials say the true numbers are likely much higher than that.
On the frontlines are the paramedics, shuttling patients to hospitals across the city. In interviews with CNN, they described many shortcomings with protective equipment, including poor-quality masks (not the N95 masks recommended to protect healthcare workers), no face shields unless they bought their own, a short supply of gloves, poor-quality goggles and coveralls, and no equipment to isolate Covid-19 patients inside ambulances.