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Hondurans who fled Hurricanes Iota and Eta now face coronavirus in overcrowded shelters

A person distributes food to hurricane victims under a bridge in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. Shelters for people whose homes were flooded or damaged by hurricanes Eta and Iota in Honduras are now so crowded that thousands of victims have taken refuge under highway overpasses or bridges. The Red Cross estimates that about 4.2 million people were affected by the back-to-back hurricanes in November in Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. (AP Photo/Delmer Martinez)
A person distributes food to hurricane victims under a bridge in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. Shelters for people whose homes were flooded or damaged by hurricanes Eta and Iota in Honduras are now so crowded that thousands of victims have taken refuge under highway overpasses or bridges. The Red Cross estimates that about 4.2 million people were affected by the back-to-back hurricanes in November in Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. (AP Photo/Delmer Martinez) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras – Tens of thousands of Hondurans are cramming into overcrowded storm shelters, aid workers and officials say, raising concerns that the chaotic set-up will trigger a new spike in coronavirus infections.

Hundreds of thousands of people across Central America have fled their homes after Hurricanes Iota and Eta wreaked havoc from Tabasco in southern Mexico to Panama this month, according to a report by NBC News.

Workers at four international aid organizations and two local church leaders told Reuters that inadequate sanitary conditions at shelters in the northern city of San Pedro Sula were a serious concern.

“The most pressing health concern is coronavirus,” said Matt Hackworth, a senior advisor at Lutheran World Relief, who said he had visited several shelters in the area.

“You don’t see mask use, you don’t see people socially distancing, you don’t see people washing their hands with any great intensity - the shelters are just overwhelmed.”

A Reuters witness at one shelter saw large groups of people of all ages lying near each other on mattresses on the floor, and walking around helping each other without socially distancing. Some, but not all, wore masks.

Honduran Deputy Health Minister Roberto Cosenza said more than a quarter of 3,500 rapid tests by local authorities in shelters in San Pedro Sula had come back positive.

“During evacuation, the most important thing was obviously to safeguard people’s lives but they left without masks and had a lot of contact with other people, including some people who had the disease,” Cosenza told local television.

“We’ve had high positive rates in these shelters.”

None of the people in shelters who tested positive have so far required hospitalization, but local hospitals are on high alert, added Cosenza.

As of Monday, there were 55,435 people in 535 shelters across Honduras, government data showed, with the majority in the Valle de Sula where San Pedro de Sula is located.

Cortes, the region where most shelters are located, is Honduras’ hardest-hit by the coronavirus. It has registered 27.7 percent of infections and 29.9 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the country.

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