Several months into our global pandemic and there’s no end in sight. I have to remind myself that it will end at some point, that tourism will return to Costa Rica at some time, but it won’t be soon enough. Perhaps some tourists will come from Australia or a few other places where the virus is kept under control but I don’t count on it because up in here, it’s no longer under control. Unfortunately, the virus has also taken off in Costa Rica, community spread is occurring in some areas and this makes it very unlikely for the country to establish any sort of tourism bubble with anyone anytime soon.
To me, in part, it happened because too many people didn’t take the situation seriously. Despite a regular education campaign by the government to educate people about the disease, protocols to follow, and behaviors to avoid, too many folks still went to parties and other social gatherings and just didn’t follow correct protocols. It was and is illegal to have parties but there wasn’t enough effective enforcement. Even though a good number of people did follow the rules, and stores counted and controlled the number of people allowed inside, and there was and is constant information about the virus, all you need is a low percentage of the population to spread the sickness and so here we are.
Even with driving restrictions, closures, and other attempts to slow the spread, and with the spread slowed down considerably, I still knew that this was very likely going to happen because literally every time I ventured outside, I saw several people speaking closely, face to face and without masks. We always saw people touching their faces and even hugging each other. Not everyone, but more than enough. I say, though, it would certainly be far worse if a good number of people hadn’t been careful, hadn’t followed guidelines and restrictions.
I knew that community spread was certain after hearing about the police having to routinely break up several parties and clandestine bars, about the lack of adequate measures at packaging plants, and despite the best efforts of the authorities, not being able to control undocumented immigration from Nicaragua. This factor in particular was and is a significant problem for stopping the spread of the virus in Costa Rica because the response of the authoritarian government of Nicaragua to the pandemic has been one of denial followed by little else. The president and his wife (who is the vice president) actually held parades and other major social gatherings as a show of faith against the virus (I wish I was kidding!). In Nicaragua, the particular mix of proteins and genetic material known as COVID-19 has responded quite faithfully indeed.
I can’t even imagine how difficult the situation must be in Nicaragua (both in terms of health care and economics) but I have had some hints and it’s likely why more Nicaraguans have been trying to enter Costa Rica. Sadly, at least a few have come in to Costa Rica, went to the hospital, and subsequently died from COVID-19 shortly thereafter. I can’t blame them for wanting to enter Costa Rica y any means possible; people will do desperate things to survive, especially when they have children than depend on them. Regarding the spread of the virus, this latter factor has certainly come into play in certain neighborhoods in Costa Rica because people who don’t have savings can’t afford not to work.
Obviously, people with no food will do what it takes to find work or do whatever it takes to find food for their kids. In such situations, the virus becomes an afterthought and that could be one of the main factors why the virus has taken off in poor areas of San Jose. It didn’t take much for the virus to take hold in such places and with so many people living in close conditions, it was a matter of days before hundreds of people had it. As of July, Costa Rica has several thousand cases, we are hearing about one or more people dying every day, and the government has responded with a near quarantine.
Counties with a certain incidence of cases and proximity to other counties with a high number of cases now have more driving restrictions and a near total stop to the local economy. On days that a vehicle is permitted to drive, you can only do so between 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. and are only allowed to go to supermarkets, pharmacies, and hospitals. You can also go to work but only with a special note. The new restrictions will be in place for a week but will certainly be extended.
Since the goal is to see if the spread can be significantly slowed down, and that won’t happen within a week, I think it’s accurate to say that much of Costa Rica is currently in a certain state of long-term quarantine. Since we can walk as far as we want and probably ride bicycles, it’s not a total quarantine (that would of course be much worse) but, to a certain degree, the closures and lack of ability for transit approximate one.
For some time, I wished the government would have shown images of people who were sick and dying, shown the catastrophic damage that can happen to lungs, try something that makes you pay attention, that forces more people to follow guidelines but even then, I don’t think it would have made a big difference. So here we are, I am grateful that we have masks and have been using them, that we can have a better chance of survival.
I am also grateful for the birds we hear everyday. Every morning and afternoon, a couple of Spot-bellied Bobwhites are out there calling.
Amazingly, I can now say that I have more than my fill of that cool little quail, a bird very similar to one that I dreamed of seeing as a kid. That northern version was a svelte little bird that still ranged just out of reach of Niagara. I loved those pictures of it in the grass, I didn’t care if it was sort of like a chicken, in the city, I never saw those things anyways.
I wondered what it would be like to hear it say its name in that sunny grass, in places where there was no doubt so many more of those other birds that I couldn’t see, that were just out of range. I used to climb these Mulberry trees that grew in a vacant lot at the end of the street. We called it “the field” and it was actually the filled in remains of a canal but it had become a field, a place where we played baseball and where some very few wild things came to live and where if I climbed high enough in one of those trees, I could just see the blue glint of the Niagara River and the green shores of Canada. Somewhere way past there were warblers and other birds, way far west were impossible Western Tanagers and Stellar’s Jays. I wanted to fly past that horizon, away from the sidewalks and concrete of those streets, some day I did.