Premise Data Looks at COVID-19 in Latin America

Premise Data Looks at COVID-19 in Latin America

Analyzing Government Response, Social Distancing, Economic Concern and Testing Availability


By Theo Reuter and Saleel Huprikar | Geospatial Data Scientist, Data Scientist Intern

As COVID-19 has continued its relentless march across the globe, almost every country has been touched by the virus. Premise, with its global network of Contributors, is able to monitor how people across the globe have felt and responded during this pandemic, and we have continued to monitor the situation by receiving on-the-ground feedback from our users. Premise has a strong presence in Latin America, and we have yet to examine a range of topics in the area like testing, feelings about government responses, and fears of economic impact.

Premise recently created a master COVID-19 survey, designed to provide us insight into the impacts of the pandemic on the economy, people’s well-being, and their day-to-day lives. Recurring every three days globally, this dataset is giving Premise a deeper understanding of the impact of this disease.

Current Situation in Latin America

The deterioration of the situation in Latin America has been accelerating, with thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of new cases in the past few weeks alone, when the first cases were detected two months ago in Brazil on February 26th. Ten of Latin America’s thirty-plus countries now have over 1,000 confirmed cases, with nine of these ten having at least 100 reported deaths from the virus. 

A major problem in this region, like elsewhere in the world, is a lack of testing. This leads to a scenario where COVID-19 deaths are suspected to be heavily underreported, with many people believed to have succumbed to the disease without being tested. For example, a study conducted by a group of universities and hospitals concluded that Brazil alone is likely to have 12x as many cases as are being officially reported. According to Brazil’s health ministry as of April 13th, there were over 26,000 confirmed cases and over 127,000 suspected, which is a staggering number of people affected by this disease. Neighboring Venezuela’s official statistics seem similarly affected (though likely for different reasons) with its 298 reported cases and 10 deaths almost certainly underreported by the Maduro administration, whose governmental mismanagement over the years has led to widespread food and gas scarcity. (It claimed less than 10 confirmed cases 34 times since March 13—including three days with zero cases.)  

Peru currently has the second largest number of confirmed cases in Latin America, with over 15,000 affected individuals and millions left unemployed due to quarantine measures. In Ecuador, prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the average number of deaths in the first two weeks of April has traditionally been about 1,000 – this year it was over six times that amount, a combination of deaths from natural causes and COVID-19. The country’s health care infrastructure is unable to keep pace with this intense rise in deaths—bodies are being left in the streets or curbside for days due to bottlenecks in funerary services. Even the President of Ecuador has dismissed the official figure as inaccurate and too low.

It is clear that the situation is serious and worsening. Premise took a closer look to see how this disease was affecting this diverse area and our network of Contributors in the region.

Setting the Stage

We selected four countries—Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil—in order to examine a cross-section of opinions, reactions and experiences across Central and South America. Governments within these four countries have been responding to the pandemic in differing fashions. Nationwide stay-at-home orders were issued by three of our countries of interest— March 17 by Venezuela, March 24 by Colombia, and March 28 by Mexico. The President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, on the other hand, has refused to issue a nationwide stay-at-home order and been the most prominent head of state to aggressively downplay, deny and even dismiss the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in significant political discord in Brazil.  This leadership vacuum has required Brazil’s governors to take action and by April 6, 24 of the 27 Brazilian states had issued shelter-in-place orders.

According to the Johns Hopkins COVID map, there have been over 61,500 recorded cases of COVID-19 to date in these four countries and over 4,100 deaths. As noted above, the vast majority of these come from Brazil, which is somewhat expected since it is the region’s most populous country. As of April 23rd, Brazil has registered over 46,000 cases and over 2,900 deaths. Mexico has the next highest total (fifth highest in the region overall) with over 10,000 confirmed cases and 970 deaths. Colombia has reported over 4,300 cases and 206 deaths, while Venezuela has confirmed 298 cases and only 10 deaths. It must again be emphasized that these numbers likely underestimate the true number of cases and deaths for a number of regionally-specific reasons – lack of testing capability being a major one, as well as governmental attempts in some countries to downplay the virus and its effect (Venezuela and Brazil in particular). Premise can look beyond these official statistics by probing our network of Contributors on the ground, providing additional insights into the real day-to-day impacts of this disease.

Survey Overview

Our global COVID-19 impact survey was released on April 11 and has collected over 168,000 responses as of April 20. The four countries of interest for this study have a total of 25,843 responses from 11,581 unique Contributors.12,056 responses were from Central America and 30,788 responses were from South America. In this group of countries, Venezuela had both the highest number of unique Contributors and the highest number of overall responses with 3,596 unique Contributors filling out the survey 8,401 times. For this snapshot, we chose to focus on the following questions:

  1. Which of the following statements best describes your attitude toward your local (town or municipality) government’s response to COVID-19?
  2. Have you been practicing social distancing when you leave the house? 
  3. How concerned are you that your economic situation will be negatively impacted in the next 30 days as a result of a change in economic activity?
  4. Do you know if testing for Coronavirus is available in your area?

We will be focusing on the unique Contributors’ most recent responses. 

Survey Results

Support of Local Government Response

When studying our Contributors’ thoughts regarding the responses of their local governments, it is clear that opinions are mixed. Only in Venezuela and Brazil do a majority of Contributors feel the local government response is adequate. It is encouraging to see that despite the Brazilian President’s denial of the virus’s dangers and the incompetence of Maduro’s administration, it seems the local governments in those countries have stepped up to address the virus. In fact, in all four countries, at least a quarter of Contributors feel their local governments should be doing more. In Colombia and Mexico, almost 40% of Contributors feel this way—a total almost equal to the number of respondents satisfied with the response—indicating a potentially overly cautious approach from local governments.

Social Distancing

Social distancing is being strongly adhered to in each of the four countries examined, with a large majority in all countries responding that they are either ‘adamantly’ or ‘as much as possible’ following social distancing guidelines in their countries. Such a large percentage is exactly what we would want to see, as aggressive social distancing will be necessary to combat COVID-19. Additionally, it is reassuring to see that despite the high profile denials from the Brazilian president of the virus’s dangers, Brazilians are taking social distancing seriously.

Economic Concern

Our Latin American Contributors are all equally concerned about the economic effects of COVID-19. The economic impact of the virus has been widespread and deep and will likely be felt for years to come. As seen here in the United States, a country-wide shutdown, though necessary, can decimate the economy and lead to jobless claims skyrocketing and millions being unable to pay rent or mortgages. Contributors in Mexico, a close neighbor of the United States, are sure to be acutely aware of the dire economic situation next door and may fear the same will happen in Mexico. In fact, according to a Mexican think tank, 22 million Mexicans may end up in poverty in 2020 and the IMF projects Mexico’s GDP to contract by about 7 percent. The IMF also predicts that Brazil’s economy and Colombia’s economy will contract by 5.3% and 2.4%, respectively.

COVID Testing

Regarding the availability of COVID-19 testing, our Contributors are providing confirmation of what we have seen in the news, which is that these countries are suffering from a drastic lack of testing, with none of the four countries we evaluated having over 40% of people who have confidence that COVID-19 testing is available in the city. Without adequate testing in place, these countries will be hard-pressed to understand the full scope of COVID-19’s effects and track and help those affected.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Despite the disparity in geography, there was a surprising amount of agreement across the four countries in terms of responses. Premise’s data shows that people in these countries are trying hard to do what they can to fight the novel coronavirus and are deeply concerned about the economic impacts of the pandemic. Significant majorities of people either cannot find or do not know where to get tested for COVID-19 and over a quarter of the population in all four countries feel their governments could be doing more to combat the novel coronavirus. As the number of cases (and unfortunately deaths) continues to climb across the region, Premise will continue to monitor sentiment and behavior in all four countries. For a broader look at Premise’s COVID-19 coverage, please visit our website here and check back in a few weeks for another look at Latin America.

To see more of Premise’s research on COVID-19, you can visit www.premise.com/COVID-19

About Theo Reuter and Saleel Huprikar

Theo Reuter is a Geospatial Data Scientist who is passionate about data and how it can be used to tell stories. Recently graduated from the University of Maryland College Park with an MS in GIS, he has been hard at work at Premise since January 2020 providing mapping, scripting and spatial data analysis, leveraging the spatial nature of the data Premise collects.

Saleel Huprikar is a Data Scientist intern, who joined Premise Data in February of this year. He recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied Economics, Mathematics and Statistics. Saleel is very passionate about the intersection of statistics and social sciences; he recently published a research paper in the Berkeley Economic Review that analyzes how state-level and local-level economic conditions (e.g. cost of living) affect people’s attitudes towards a federal minimum wage increase using a statistical regression framework. At Premise, Saleel has been involved in developing and implementing statistical methodologies in order to help Premise understand the data that it has collected and establish an analytical strategy for future data collection.