Coronavirus in Belém: A Survivor’s Story

“I am going to be very realistic here.  The situation in Belém is not good at all, friend. No no no no, not even a little. If I could write this in giant cartoon lettering for you to see I would write that it is terrible. Because, yes, it is terrible. People are dying like water.”

By Emerson Roberto “Tromps” da Costa

My name is Emerson Roberto “Tromps” da Costa. I am 26 years old and I produce content for YouTube and Instagram, mainly about Afro-Brazilian hair and its relationship to self acceptance and self-esteem.

I am from Belém do Pará. My parents died when I was 8 years old and I live alone on the periphery of Belém.  Last week I was diagnosed with a moderate case of Covid-19 and this is my story.

I think I caught Covid 19 during trips to the local outdoor market, which is more crowded than the supermarket. I went to the supermarket twice but I went to the market a lot more. So I think that is where I really caught Covid 19. Living by myself made this situation a lot more complicated, although, luckily, when I got sick my neighbors helped me.

I had a fever and when the symptoms worsened I realized that I needed to see a doctor.  I’ve had the flu before – there is a lot of it around here. There a lot of different types of influenza in Northern Brazil because of our equatorial climate,  which is different from the rest of Brazil. It rains a lot and the humidity is very high. I think this is why the symptoms were a lot more developed here. I think, for example, that the loss of taste and sense of smell is something more pronounced here in Northern Brazil. It seems like this is one of the virus’ mutations here.

I spoke to a public health system doctor online via video conference, to verify if I had symptoms of Covid 19. After this online exam, I was told to go to the local public health clinic. I went there and the experience was very traumatic because there were a lot of people there – it was really crowded. There were a lot of people screaming, getting sick and a lot of people running around. People didn’t seem to understand each other. So I checked in and waited for them to take me to a doctor to do the quick, q-tip. I felt like, all things considered and within the limitations of the place, they treated me well. It took a long time though. I won’t use euphemisms to say it was great because it wasn’t 100% great, and there was no way it could have been due to how crowded it was.  Nobody was respecting  social distancing. . Our country is becoming an epicenter because people are not respecting social distancing, especially people who live on the periphery. People who live on the periphery have to work so it is complicated to ask them to stay in social isolation. This makes people more susceptible to catching it.

There are news stories talking about people not being treated well in the public health clinics in Belém. There are cases of this  but I was treated well and I didn’t see anyone else being treated poorly. But I think things are going to get worse because we are arriving at the peak and I don’t know how long this is going to last.  I’ve never experienced a pandemic. I’m 26  this is all really crazy to me – it’s all very traumatic. As of yesterday the city is in total lock-down.

I spent 3 days in public hospital and was treated with azithromycin. It didn’t get so bad that I had to go on a ventilator but I was treated with oxygen. It looks like it only affected 15% of my lungs. I am still coughing up gunk from my lungs but I think I was treated well in that hospital.

I am going to be very realistic here.  The situation in Belém is not good at all, friend. No no no no, not even a little. If I could write this in giant cartoon lettering for you to see I would write that it is terrible. Because, yes, it is terrible. People are dying like water. The hospitals are counting deaths on top of deaths every day. Refrigeration trucks have arrived in Belem to remove these bodies. They are digging more and more graves. The Mayor ordered them to dig a lot more graves in the public and private cemeteries because there was nowhere left to bury this number of people. There are stories that, supposedly, funeral home owners are charging outrageous, absurd prices from people who don’t have the means to bury their dead. People from the periphery who don’t have funeral insurance are suffering a lot. Mainly, the black population is being massacred by this virus. The poor, black population on the periphery is losing a lot of lives. Ten of my neighbors have already died. In fact, today, at the exact moment that I am doing this interview with you, I just heard that I lost two friends – two of the oldest people in my neighborhood. I’ve lost two good friends from work. I lost neighbors – a lot of neighbors. And the situation in Belém, if it hadn’t gone into total lock down now as it did yesterday,  I think  it would be a lot worse. Because people weren’t respecting isolation recommendations. The digital influencers here in the city are holding parties – can you believe it? They are holding private parties and showing them on their Instagram accounts giving a terrible example to their followers. People aren’t respecting things.  This is the biggest problem. I don’t support Brazilian politics because I think it is a delicate situation, but our governor is doing everything he can now  to try to prevent Belem from becoming the new epicenter. Here in the North the epicenter is Manaus, Amazonas, but Belém is getting very close to taking this position over and becoming the new epicenter. We have two big public hospitals but 90% of our public health clinics are closed. The emergency rooms are overflowing. Thank God that a lot of people are getting better but most people still have not caught it yet.

I really hope that people stay in social isolation and hope that people seek out psychologists and psychiatrists in the public health system – I know that some of them are giving consultations online.  Poor people should seek them out. Because this disease is really messing with us psychologically  – a lot. People should avoid going outside as much as possible, keep up with hygiene guidelines and take care of their mental health. It will help us confront this because we still don’t know when and how this is all going to end.  But if we all unite and work together we can beat this Covid 19 and return to our lives in a new world, because I am sure that the world is never going to be the same. It is apparent that the world has changed. The old world has been left behind and we are going to live in a new world and in this new world I really want  people to  seek out psychological support to deal with the traumas and the anxiety and depression which is going to be the next pandemic – it’s already a reality but as this Covid 19 advances it’s going to get worse. Imagine if you lose your father, your mother or a brother and you can’t have a funeral. You can’t give your brother a dignified burial – this is very traumatic. It’s inhumane. But, unfortunately, this is the procedure because if they don’t do it this way the contamination won’t stop.

Thank you for giving me a voice. We young, black people from the periphery don’t have a voice in the traditional media vehicles so thank you for listening to me and letting me share a bit of my experience.


By Emerson Roberto da Costa

Producer of YouTube and Instagram content on Afro-Brazilian hair and its relationship to self acceptance and self-esteem.