THE WAY WE LIVE NOW: Salvadorans under COVID-19 martial law

Central Americans stifle their ambitions to migrate north to the United States, staying put and risking arrest if they leave their homes without a government-sanctioned reason. With churches locked up, some say lonely prayers.

The virus seemed late to El Salvador.

Scattered Third World testing delayed only the silent demon’s revelation but it was there, waiting patiently to be found.

The murder rate has plunged from twelve a day to five. The coast is clear but most in the Northern Triangle have stifled all thought of migrating north.

This is the way Salvadorans live now: wracked with fear that COVID-19 can follow them anywhere, and staying put by the millions.

The official head-count is nine dead and 377 infected. For now.

Narco gangs are scarce in mountain towns. Soldiers search shoppers now.

They enforce social distancing. They man checkpoints. They haul away the quarantine-defiant, more than 2,300 so far. Arrestees mark time in jails or sequestered with strangers.

The government owns them now. For walking or running or driving or shopping without say-so.

Those who venture out to buy approved goods are showered with disinfectant on the street before standing two yards away from the next in line.

Markets are stripped to bare essentials, even in the once-lively capital San Salvador. Buses still make rounds, but stop for passengers in front of spray-painted signs reading “Quedata en casa!”

Stay at home.

Churches are locked, denied worshipers banned from congregating. A few, though, kneel on the pavement before the Virgin Mary, risking their freedom for one “Santa María, Madre de Dios.”

Their country, the size of Massachusetts, is named after Jesús. On its annual festival day, 495 years running, a sea of humanity hoists a statue through historic city streets—a likeness of Christ called “The Divine Savior of the World.”

The parade is an epidemiologist’s nightmare. August’s festival may be a cruel casualty this year.

The World lifts its eyes to the hills awaiting saving from no-one-knows-where. It looks up, it looks down, it prays and it waits.

Tired but faithful is the way we live now.

People being sprayed with disinfecting solution
People entering the town of Tacuba, El Salvador are sprayed with a disinfecting solution on April 25, 2020. The municipal government mandates this safety measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 locally. (Juan Carlos/Zenger)
Riders sit apart and masked inside a bus
After being sprayed with disinfectant, riders sit apart and masked inside a bus on their way into the town of Tacuba, El Salvador on April 25, 2020. (Juan Carlos/Zenger)
A banner with the phrase STAY AT HOME
A person wearing a mask stands at a bus stop beside a banner with the phrase “STAY AT HOME” in El Refugio, El Salvador on April 24, 2020. Locals posted the banner to discourage people from breaking quarantine. (Juan Carlos/Zenger)
Women line up to enter the marketplace
Women line up to enter the marketplace in Ahuachapan, El Salvador on April 24, 2020. On this particular day, only women may go out. This is another one of the measures the municipal government has implemented in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Juan Carlos/Zenger)
Soldier checks a woman's ID card
A soldier checks a woman’s ID card before she can be allowed to enter the municipal marketplace in Ahuachapan, El Salvador on April 24, 2020. Only residents of Ahuachapan of are allowed to enter and shop. (Juan Carlos/Zenger)
Customers walk through a sanitation tunnel
Customers walk through a “sanitation tunnel” to do their grocery shopping inside the municipal marketplace in Ahuachapan, El Salvador on April 24, 2020. This is one of the measures the municipal government has implemented in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Juan Carlos/Zenger)
A customer passes a religious altar
One customer passes a religious altar inside the Mercado Central, one of the busiest marketplaces in San Salvador, El Salvador on April 24, 2020. The businesses have been hit hard economically by the restrictions set by the government. (Juan Carlos/Zenger)
Soldiers guard a nearly empty historic downtown
Ordinarily one of the busiest areas in the capital city San Salvador, El Salvador, soldiers guard a nearly empty historic downtown on April 24, 2020. Mayor Ernesto Muyshondt has restricted access to the area to curb the spread of COVID-19. (Juan Carlos/Zenger)
Catholic faithfuls pray outside of a church
Catholic faithfuls pray outside of a church in San Salvador, El Salvador on April 24, 2020. Religious events such as mass have been prohibited in order to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 (Juan Carlos/Zenger)
single, masked shopper walks alone
A single, masked shopper walks alone through the nearly deserted streets of the historic downtown in the capital city San Salvador, El Salvador on April 24, 2020. (Juan Carlos/Zenger)