COVID-19: Two Sides, One Issue (I)

"How do the people of Cuba see the impact COVID-19? Here we present the results of a quantitative research study, carried out via WhatsApp, between mid-April and mid-May 2020."

Puede leer aquí la versión en español de este artículo.

COVID -19 came out of the blue, tearing up our daily lives, staining them with fear, with shocking reports of the numbers of infected and deceased, our daily routines paralyzed, plans put on hold, and a lot of uncertainty. The vulnerability of the whole world emerges and the need for physical isolation comes alongside the need for support networks, solidarity, explicit affection, wisdom. “Stay home” is today’s catchphrase.

Cuba was not among the first countries to experience the effects of the pandemic, but the fact it was less of a surprise did not mean it had less of an emotional effect, although our emotions do not paralyze us. More than 500 measures have been implemented by the government, the effect of which - so far - points to a favorable scenario in managing the health situation (Rodríguez & Odriozola, 2020), while at an individual and group level, other initiatives have demonstrated a proactive attitude to the pandemic.

How do the people of Cuba see the impact of COVID-19? Here we present the results of a quantitative research study, carried out via WhatsApp, between mid-April and mid-May 2020. Our initial hypothesis was that COVID 19, despite its devastating effect, offered new opportunities and positive experiences. We prepared a questionnaire based on sociodemographic data and in which the central questions revolved around 4 main strands: Identification of positive and negative facts and personal attitudes, examining the answers in each case.

It was carried out in the second half of April and the first half of May. Given the requirement for social distancing, WhatsApp was used as the means of contact. This limited the scope of the sample, despite following the snowball principle: “key participants are identified and added to the sample. They are asked if they know other people who could provide additional data, and once contacted, we also include them” (Sampieri, Fernández & Baptista, 2010, p. 398). At the same time, the virtual space constitutes a valid medium, given the application of multiple processes and instruments, as systematized by De Sena & Lisdero in 2015, and validated, using the WhatsApp platform, by Scribano in 2017.

For the analysis of quantitative data, we used the statistical package SPSS Statistics25. From the results, emerging categories were constructed from the respondents and the database was created. Initially, an exploratory analysis of the data was carried out, with the aim of identifying trends regarding sociodemographic variables and profiling participants/respondents. Subsequently, we analyzed the scores of the different categories measured in the questionnaire using descriptive statistics of frequencies, matrixed tables and graphics. Finally, the Chi-square test of independence was applied in order to determine the existence of dependence or independence between two variables, and as a result we were able to observe possible correlations.

The sample consisted of 259 respondents, the majority white female (73.4%), of working age, with higher education qualifications, working, primarily residing in Havana (233).

Image 1. Sample distribution according to sex, skin color and age group.

Taking into account the characteristics of this medium, Catalejo, the results will be shared in two parts. The first contextualizes the research, explains the methodology, how the information was processed and shows only a part of the results - the facts identified with positive and negative significance. So it is a predominantly descriptive text. Initial findings are presented, offering some recommendations relating to psychological impacts. The second part of the study will break down the respondents with positive and negative significance/attitude, as well as offering a discussion of the results.


These will be displayed as percentage values ​​based on the frequency of responses. When profiles are referred to, these are derived by processing matrices of variables (sociodemographic variables cross-referenced with those created for information processing). When it is not made explicit, it means that no link appears between variables. Quotes from respondents are highlighted in italics.

What events were reported as significant?

Of the 777 possible positive and negative events identified, 686 are characterized as positive (88.3%) and 660 as negative (84.9%), which means that more than half of the sample identifies mostly positive events that occurred during the pandemic.

Image 2. Percentage of the number of reported events.

Only 2.7% of the interviewees did not identify positive aspects. However, the score for positive and negative aspects was not evenly distributed across the whole sample.

Image 3. Frequency of people who identify positive (left) and negative (right) aspects.

For the processing of these events, we developed categories and subcategories of analysis. Among the positives:

Image 4. Categories and subcategories of analysis (positive events).

Some responses that support these answers are:

Use of time: We play games, watch movies, enjoy this time together. (Female, white, 22, high school level, Havana); This period of lockdown has allowed us to turn our focus inward, that is, toward the home and the family. More time spent on housework, with children, the elderly, looking for creative and joint solutions to the crisis (synergy), conversations and debates. In addition, we are paying greater attention to pets and looking after them (fostering a positive and respectful climate) (Male, white, 21, high school level, Arroyo Naranjo, Havana); I feel that I have been able to take advantage of many areas that I did not have or didn’t see before, such as handicrafts, reading a book, doing exercise, spending more time with my family. I have learned gardening with my mother to plant vegetables and fruits, I have talked with friends that I had not been in contact with for ages, I have a siesta. (Female, white, 25, high school level, Playa, Havana); I have learned to bake cakes because it has become a time of sharing with the family. (Female, mestizo, 20, university graduate, Cárdenas, Matanzas); I spend more time with my girlfriend (Male, white, 31, university graduate, Boyeros, Havana); There is a boom in creativity in people. (Female, white, 49, university graduate, Marianao, Havana).

Political strategies: The daily broadcast of Doctor Durán[1], which I think is an excellent piece of information for the population. (Female, white, 27, university graduate, Cerro, Havana); The Mesa Redonda program[2] I believe has become something people now follow, except for a few small parts (Female, black, 50, university graduate, Havana del Este, Havana); Political will to deal with the pandemic, despite all kinds of limitations, and save lives. (Female, white, 55, university graduate, 10 de Octubre, Havana); Increased control of illegalities (although that is something that should always be kept up, not only in crisis situations) (Female, white, 24, university graduate, Pedro Betancourt, Matanzas); The work of Civil Defense and the health authorities, working away and making many sacrifices. (Female, mestizo, 40, university graduate, San Antonio de los Baños).

Efficient work of MINSAP (Ministry of Public Health): They are the true heroes together with other people who make possible the prevention and pertinent treatment possible in the face of the epidemic. (Female, white, 22, university graduate, Santa Clara, Villa Clara); Sacrifices made in order to do so many tests. (Male, white, 58, university graduate, Plaza, Havana); Number of medical discharges given, especially to children. I couldn't help being afraid that my 7-year-olds could end up in that situation. (Female, white, 33, university graduate, La Lisa, Havana).

Applause[3]: Because they make me proud of the uniform I wear. (Female, white, 22, high school level, Cerro, Havana); The clapping brings Cubans closer together and is a way of recognizing the work of all the personnel who are contributing to reducing the harm caused by Covid (Female, white, 24, university graduate, Regla, Havana); A fleeting experience shared with the neighbors, it makes me happy. (Female, mestizo, 35, high school level, Santa Cruz del Norte, Mayabeque); It’s a way of recognizing the value of doctors and health workers. Their importance is recognized over other higher paid lines of work. (Female, white, 42, university graduate, Habana del Este, Havana).

Use of technologies: Teleworking shows how much can be done from home without affecting the results (Female, white, 23, university, La Lisa, Havana); Being in a WhatsApp group of young people where psychological support is provided for many people (Female, white, 24, university graduate, Centro Habana, Havana); When I saw a video of various actors reciting the poem "When the storm passes," it gave me hope. (Female, white, 19, high school, Arroyo Naranjo, Havana); Making new friends through social networks and closer contact with old friends. (Female, mestizo, 27, university graduate, Playa, Havana).

Solidarity and recovery of values: International support provided by the country, as it contributes to a certain pride, confidence, happiness. (Female, 20, mestizo, high school, Matanzas); The involvement of young people in humanitarian aid shows that it is not true what older people say about young people being lost. And the help that Cuba offered to the cruise ship demonstrated once again the humanitarian values that Cuba holds irrespective of what others think. (Female, white, 21, high school level, Artemisa); Solidarity between neighbors and relatives, donations from individuals and social institutions, companies, for quarantine centers. (Female, white, 22, high school level, Santa Clara, Villa Clara); Cuban aid to other countries by sending Cuban doctors. It makes me feel proud that, even in the most adverse situations, we do not lose our values and principles. I believe that Cuba with these gestures, despite the smears in some of the press, has shown that we are in this together and that we must unite to face a greater enemy. (Female, white, 22, university graduate, Plaza, Havana).

 Environmental Improvement; Role of science; Family and Other Aspects: Fewer cars on the road, reduced air and noise pollution, as well as the risk of accidents. Greater cleanliness. In the streets and public places. (Male, white, 31, university graduate, Cerro, Havana); It has been an opportunity to show the value of science in society. (Female, white, 71, graduate, Plaza, Havana); Having family remittances for expenses of all kinds of things at this time. (Female, white, 25, university graduate, Guanabo, Havana).

Among negative examples we find:

Image 5. Categories and subcategories of analysis (negative aspects).

Some arguments that support these choices:

Political strategies: The scarcity of personal hygiene products and food has caused a lack of control in society with people acting inappropriately with regards to social isolation measures. (Female, white, 22, graduate, Santa Clara, Villa Clara); Remote schooling, it is not very easy to guide and teach children the school curriculum. (Female, mestizo, 35, university graduate, Santa Cruz del Norte, Mayabeque); The borders should have been closed in the first few hours after positive cases were found in Cuba. (Female, white, 22, university, Plaza, Havana); The publicity of the raids shown during the newscasts because they are parallel trials that entail greater reproach to those involved. It is fine to report, but the way it has been done has been sensationalistic. (Male, 32, white, university graduate, Playa, Havana) I think ETECSA (Cuban phone company) could do more to facilitate Internet use, which has increased so much during this time, but it is very difficult because it is very expensive. The idea of extending the bonus calls voucher and other things is very good, but there are still many people who cannot access and others who do not always get access because the mobile data gets used up very quickly. (Female, white, 22, high school, Plaza, Havana); Having difficulties with a service such as water, which is vital for subsistence, especially in conditions of epidemiological risk, has been a concern alongside many others and has been stressful. (Female, white, 30, university graduate, 10 de Octubre, Havana).

Negative emotions: Overload of distance working. This new work modality gives me the feeling of very long days. I find it impossible to separate home space from workspace. (Female, white, 30, university graduate, 10 de Octubre, Havana); I have experienced anxiety, heart palpitations, mood swings, loneliness, depression, insomnia. (Female, white, 23, university graduate, Bauta, Artemisa); Worrying about how our relatives are, knowing that we cannot help them in case of need. (Female, white, 30, university, 10 de Octubre, Havana) Stress at the possibility of catching the disease. When I need to go out I worry that I may touch surfaces without realizing it and contract the virus when people who could pass it on come near me. (Female, white, 56, university graduate, La Lisa, Havana).

Irresponsible behavior: People ignoring the guidelines leads to a wider spread of the virus and more public disorder (Female, white, 22, university graduate, Santa Clara, Villa Clara); Unscrupulous people who try to take advantage of the situation (Male, black, 45, Havana)

Concern about health: A lot of people dying from Covid around the world, including young people, which makes me more concerned and it makes me realize nobody is exempt from the virus. (Female, white, 24, university graduate, Regla, Havana); I’m scared I’ll never see my grandfather again (Female, white, 24, university graduate, Guanabacoa, Havana).

Unemployment: Family income has dropped. (Female, white, 19, high school level, Habana del Este, Havana); It affects food supplies, personal hygiene products, telephone services, medicines and other essentials. (Male, white, 21, high school level, Arroyo Naranjo, Havana)

Perceived from abroad: Senseless responses by governments, like the US, withdrawing from the WHO. (Female, mestizo, 20, high school, Matanzas); Seeing my country deprived of medical supplies, food, parts for technological advances at a time when it is needed more than ever, all because of the blockade. (Female, white, 60, graduate, Plaza, Havana).

Effects on society: Scarcity, the critical situation of our country which also causes queues to buy things, hoarding. (Female, white, 22, university graduate, Habana del Este, Havana); It affects me because we can’t buy anything, because everything is expensive, it affects me emotionally, from all angles. (Female, white, 22, high school level, Boyeros, Havana); This is a global crisis and unfortunately we practically rely on tourism. (Female, white, 49, university graduate, Marianao, Havana).

Frustrations: We’ve had to put plans and hopes we’ve had for years on hold. (Female, white, 23, high school level, Plaza, Havana); Not being able to cover the workers’ salaries [of private businesses] for all the months the crisis has been going on. Financial tension. (Female, white, 51, university graduate, Habana del Este, Havana).

Personal relationships: Stress from fear of catching the virus, over food, finding things to buy, the uncertainty of how long it will last and what will happen to jobs, schools. (Female, white, 25, high school level, Playa, Havana); The lockdown is hugely challenging for people confined to the same household. (Male, white, 29, university graduate, Cotorro, Havana).

Attitude of the authorities: Poor policing, I have passed places where there are huge queues, people close together and the police are just standing there doing nothing. (Male, white, 28, university graduate, Playa, Havana).

Self-care: Unstable sleeping and eating patterns bringing about physical discomfort. (Female, mestizo, 27, university graduate, Playa, Havana); I’ve let my health go a bit, I don’t sleep much, my diet isn’t balanced and I’m not doing much exercise. (Male, white, 29, university graduate, Cotorro, Havana).

Partial findings

The pandemic arrived, without warning, and it has hurt us, but now we have to deal with it; mobilize our individual, group and institutional resources, learn and keep moving on –which does not mean being resigned–; the difference between one attitude and the other is that the first is proactive, the second is not. With the former, we focus on the search for well-being; with the latter, discomfort.

The results show that it is possible. We have learned from the pandemic - consciously or unconsciously. One of the main feedbacks received when reviewing the questionnaires was: Thank you, I had not thought about that; Thank you, it has been good to see how many things I have accomplished; Thank you, I think I will think about this more to feel better. However, not everyone has the same resources to be able to face the daily challenges in a healthy manner – now especially with the pandemic. It is clear that not all problems are psychological in nature, but this aspect is very important, as it determines people's behavior.

We are having to deal with problems related to COVID-19 and others which already existed, which COVID-19 has accentuated, or transformed. We have a present and a future in which to build well-being. In order to strengthen it, starting with psychological health, and provide our people with tools to manage it independently, we propose the following:

On the practical level

1. Maintain and / or create psychological support services through various channels: a) the traditional way, by consultations; b) WhatsApp, given the proven effectiveness of the Psycho-groups service; c) in the media, covering a range of target audiences and with a range of communicative products; d) in schools, for students, parents and teachers, given the multiple adaptation processes that the new normal will require as well as the interruption to study for some groups; to work on issues related to living with others, conflict management, emotion management, time management; d) in institutions, as a way of reaching groups that may not have access to technologies and attending to the changes in dynamics in organizations resulting from COVID-19; e) in communities, to reach retired, the unemployed and those that have lost their livelihood, families; to collaborate with other community factors in addressing vulnerabilities, indiscipline, violence of all types.

2. Design, apply, and monitor training programs that promote participation, creativity, innovation, and citizen leadership.

3. Promote at government level the treatment of psychological issues, in governance, attention to the population and the production of communication products, based on information, specific recommendations and direct work with stakeholders.

On the methodological level

1. Consolidate the design and application of a national research study: a) with a representative sample from rural and urban areas; populations stratified by income, age, sex, skin color; employment status; level of education; b) using mixed methods, direct and projective techniques; c) Interdisciplinary; d) whose main objective is to enhance the ability to manage development, at different levels (individual, group, community, region).

On the theoretical level

Work towards the systematization of information relating to psychological issues relating to the impact of COVID-19: a) compare them with international results, and examine our own patterns, with their possible causes and consequent recommendations; b) convert this information into material to be introduced in undergraduate and postgraduate curricula, which contributes to training to be able to anticipate the different problems that may arise and support the affected groups.


  • De Sena, A. & Lissdero, P. (2015) "Etnografía Virtual: aportes para su discusión y diseño", in: De Sena, A. Caminos cualitativos: aportes para la investigación en Ciencias Sociales. Buenos Aires: CICCUS- Imago Mundi (pp. 71-100).
  • Rodríguez, J.L & Odriozola, S (2020). Impactos económicos y sociales de la COVID-19 en Cuba: Opciones de políticas. Informe PNUD.
  • Sampieri, R., Fernández, C., & Baptista., P. (2010). Metodología de la investigación. Mexico: S.A de C.V.
  • Scribano, A (2017. Miradas cotidianas. El uso de Whatsapp como experiencia de investigación social; Revista Latinoamericana de Metodología de la Investigación Social. Nº13. Year 7. April – September 2017. Argentina. ISSN 1853-6190. Pp. 8-22.

 Traductora: Jackie Cannon


[1] N.E. Dr. Francisco Durán, Director de Epidemiology and Microbiology of the Ministry of Public Health MINSAP

[2] N.E. Round table to discuss significant news issues transmitted daily by Cuban National TV

[3] N.E. Minute of applause to health workers given every night at 9 PM

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