In this harrowing read for The New Yorker, Daniel Alarcón paints a grim picture of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, which endured one of the world’s most lethal outbreaks of COVID-19.

In Guayaquil, on any given day before the pandemic, there might have been thirty to fifty people whose deaths had to be accounted for, whose bodies had to be embalmed, moved to a grave site, mourned, and buried. During that hellish stretch from late March to mid-April of 2020, hundreds were dying each day. For more than a week in early April, the number was around seven hundred. No system in the world could have absorbed this many excess deaths, every day for weeks, without collapsing. Social media was awash with macabre images of bodies on sidewalks. The whole city had become a cemetery, a spectacle for all the world to see.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.