Coronavirus has hit the DR, and Puente is punching back

Here's how we're responding, and how you can help us do even more

As you all know, COVID-19 is dominating the world news cycle and causing everyone to revise plans and priorities in response. Puente is no exception. We've shifted our focus towards monitoring, mitigating, and managing the virus' impact within the DR. Please read on for a brief update on where things stand, how we're intervening, and how you can help.

Two quick points of emphasis before we begin:
  1. We hope all of you, and your families, are remaining safe (and sane) during this time
  2. We are dedicating 100% of all new donations towards direct COVID-19 response and relief efforts in the DR until the virus is under control. Please read about our strategies for fighting the virus (below) and consider helping us expand programs that will hopefully save lives and make this difficult period easier on Dominican families with limited savings and resources 
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Executive Summary

  1. Current conditions in the DR: there are 245 confirmed cases across the country, but luckily none in our home-base of Constanza just yet. The government has imposed a nationwide lockdown that is expected to last ~2-4 weeks at the minimum
  2. Safety and wellbeing of our team at Puente: we've taken all volunteers out of the field and provided their families with monetary stipends to ensure they can survive a prolonged quarantine without normal working wages
  3. Proactive preparations in Constanza: we've taken numerous steps to prepare for the virus reaching Constanza, including repurposing our technology and survey data, directly supporting local healthcare providers, assisting in public health information campaigns, and much more
  4. Staying ready and reacting quickly: no one can predict exactly what happens from here, but Puente is ready to mobilize and act upon new information. We will need your support to continue saving lives and supporting local providers as things get worse.

Current Conditions in the DR

There are 245 confirmed cases in the country and 3 confirmed fatalities. The ministry of public health, along with Diario Libre, has been updating a map (below) showing confirmed cases and fatalities by province. Constanza is located in the La Vega province, which still has just one confirmed case as of the most recent report. This case is not in Constanza, but we feel it is only a matter of time until Constanza is impacted directly.

To mitigate the virus' spread, the government has enacted numerous measures focused on social distancing -- schools, stores, and other public venues have been shut down for at least 11 more days. While these measures should be helpful in "flattening the curve" they will also be detrimental for families living day-to-day with no savings to fall back on. If the shutdown lasts longer than a few weeks, things will get very, very bad for the majority of Dominican families that scrape by on daily/weekly wages. Haitian migrants may be even worse off if they fail to qualify for government benefits that provide some basic staples (rice, oil, cooking gas, etc.) to many families each month.

How We're Protecting the Puente Team

Our first priority is not only keeping our people safe, but ensuring they will be economically comfortable despite the work stoppage. With that in mind, we've taken the following steps to protect our team members and their families:
  • Each Puente volunteer received 2,000 pesos (roughly $40 USD) from Puente to help their families survive the shutdown. We plan to make these payments every ~30 days if the shutdown persists
    • We would like to extend this benefit to more of our friends and project partners in Constanza, and prepare financially for a longer shutdown. Please consider donating so we can provide more support to more families
  • All ongoing projects are paused indefinitely (more on this below)
  • All surveying activities are paused indefinitely

Proactive Preparations in Constanza

Our team on the ground, led by Scott Coppa and Crismary Gutierrez, have been closely monitoring the situation for weeks now. While it's impossible to fully prepare for an event like this, we feel that our work over the past two years provides Puente with several assets that will be quite valuable in mitigating the virus' impact. Here are a few of the things we're doing (or have done) to prepare:
  • Supplementing local healthcare resources: we are donating gloves, hand sanitizer, and masks to Constanza's local clinics
    • So far, we have donated enough supplies to support Constanza's 9 local clinics for one full week
    • Scott proactively bought up masks sold in Constanza retail stores over the past few weeks, knowing that they would be better off in the hands of healthcare providers than private hoarders
    • The gloves were originally provided by our partners at World Outreach Foundation to support their medical brigades, and we're grateful that they acted quickly to approve our donation of these scarce and essential supplies
  • Predicting impact and identifying highest-risk communities: we've spent the last two years surveying thousands of Constanza residents across dozens of communities to assess their health and living conditions. This data gives us unique perspective on where the virus could be most detrimental -- for instance, a densely populated barrio with poor housing conditions and a lack of sanitation infrastructure
    • We are working closely with local healthcare providers to gather insights from our data and ensure they are used to prepare communities and their clinics more appropriately
  • Mass messaging: we now have the ability to send text messages to anyone who has responded to a Puente survey in the past. This functionality will allow us to share targeted messages with advice on minimizing risk exposure and staying informed. A few examples:
    • Any resident of a community where Puente has completed bathrooms, floors, or filters projects will receive a text explaining how the water filters in their community can be used as hand-washing stations during this period
    • All residents in our database from the Constanza region will receive advice on how to recognize symptoms, seek care, and act smartly to minimize exposure. These messages are developed based on extensive and ongoing conversations with local healthcare providers
  • Sanitation infrastructure & education: as public health practitioners, we're always preparing for a situation like this (even if we didn't know when or how the outbreak would occur). Since last May, our supporters and volunteers have helped us accomplish the following to equip communities for better outcomes:
    • More than 300 families and 1,000 individuals have now received a new bathroom, cement floor, or clean water filter through Puente
      • The bathrooms ensure that the virus is less able to spread through open fecal matter and human waste contamination
      • Cement floors reduce bacterial and viral spread into homes relative to dirt surfaces, and allow parents to keep their homes cleaner
      • Our clean water filters also work as sanitary hand-washing stations, and we're teaching recipients how to make better use of them during this period
      • Note: In the first two weeks of March (before the DR had significant confirmed cases), we ramped up project pace and completed 8 bathrooms, 9 floors, and 15 water filters in the community of El Canal
    • Over 700 people have attended workshops on proper sanitation and hygiene led by Puente volunteers
      • We were literally teaching proper handwashing techniques (amongst other things) before it was cool
  • Social media communications: Crismary is working closely with our volunteers to disseminate accurate information and helpful tips via social media. This content will include:
    • Instructional videos on how to build a hand-washing station with materials like empty soda bottles that are available for free, at home
    • Proper hand-washing techniques and social distancing practices
    • Sharing other reliable resources (such as the map included above) to combat the spread of inaccurate or sensationalist information
  • Direct financial assistance: as mentioned above, we are extremely concerned about the economic consequences of a shutdown for the majority of families in Constanza that live day-to-day, or week-to-week. We've already provided financial stipends to our volunteers and hope to do more for impacted families in our area going forward.

Staying Ready & Reacting Quickly

So what comes next? Who knows. Our focus is on staying prepared and ensuring we're in a position to help as things continue to escalate. Many of you likely have seen your own financial conditions worsen in the past month, but if you are still in a position to help those less fortunate we'd love to have your support during this time. Until further notice, every dollar donated will go directly towards supporting the interventions I listed above -- mostly direct financial aid and medical supplies, if we can get our hands on them.

Please stay safe, stay sane, and consider helping those with the greatest need during this unprecedented period of history.
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