Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

Student Reflections on Topics Covered in our Class

Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

Costa Rica and Coronavirus

April 1, 2021 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Blog #3

The COVID-19 in Costa Rica:

For this week’s blog post, I decided to highlight the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the Central American nation of Costa Rica. This country’s COVID response is personally relevant to me as my fiancée and I intend to get married there this December (2021). We also got the opportunity to visit the country this past December to explore and assess wedding venues and the feasibility of hosting a wedding next year.

First, I want to review how Costa Rica has handled the pandemic thus far. The Costa Rican Ministry of Health identified its first possible case of coronavirus on March 5th,  2020 in a woman who was returning from a visit to Italy and Tunisia followed by the first confirmed case the next day in a woman who traveled in from New York. This was Latin America’s first COVID-19 case. From there, new cases were reported daily. 

Among a population of about 5 million citizens, the country has identified 216,764 cumulative cases and 2,957 deaths, about 4.3% and 0.06% of the population respectively, per Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Dashboard. In contrast, the 30.5 million cases and 552,019 deaths identified in the US make up about 10% and 0.17% of our population, respectively. Costa Rica’s incidence rate is 4,255 per 100,000 people, approximately half the rate in our state of Georgia. This particular statistic absolutely made my fiancée and I more comfortable when deciding to visit last December. Johns Hopkins also reported 192,699 cases recovered, with approximately 21,108 current active cases. I was unable to find any hospitalization statistics with credible citations.

To stim the spread of COVID-19, the Costa Rican government joined the majority of other nations in implementing multiple mandates and curfews. However, in June, a significant increase in positive cases in the northern region of the country exposed the exploitation of migrant workers, but again the government was able to step in and contain the outbreak. Overall, Costa Rica handled the pandemic relatively well compared to other nations, particularly states/cities in the United States. Though less densely populated than most US metropolitan regions, the speed and seriousness with which countermeasures were implemented was remarkable. This YouTube video of a Costa Rican citizen truly breaks down how and why the nation’s response was so effective. Of course, Costa Ricans also benefit from a universal healthcare system.

The country had shut down international travel up until mid-November, making us one of the first groups tourists to return. Tourism makes up a significant part of Costa Rica’s economy, contributing 12.5% of the country’s GDP and 11.7% of direct and indirect employment in 2012 (Blanke 2013). Per a UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) report, the tourism boom directly contributed to reducing the countries poverty rate to 3% in 2007 (UNEP 2011). A report from the National Institute of Statistics and Census in November 2020 found that the poverty rate has increased to its highest level since 1992, with extreme poverty reported at 7% and unemployment going from 12.3% in March 2020 to 24% (INEC 2020). Thus, they have faced significant economic hardships alongside the health burden of the COVID-19 virus.

Throughout the rest of March 2020, the Costa Rican government took steps to mitigate economic burden of COVID through a “Plan Proteger” program aiming to provide governmental financial support to a total of 800,000 people most affected by COVID-19 outbreak. New solidarity taxes were implemented on workers making more the ¢500.000 salaries (Costa Rican colon, which is about $814 USD) to offset burden on the unemployed and workers already impacted by salary reductions.

Regarding Costa Rica’s vaccine response, the nation received its first shipment of 10,725 doses on December 23, and began distributing vaccinations the following day on Christmas eve to the elderly and healthcare personnel. As of March 29, 2021, 224,094 (4.44% of population) have received at least 1 dose with 160,263 (3.18%) fully vaccinated (Our World in Data). They’ve followed similar rollout plans to the United States, prioritizing staff and residents at retirement and nursing homes, followed by first responders and other healthcare personnel.

Along with its universal healthcare policy, Costa Rica benefited from consistent messaging from its government and health authorities, reenforcing the seriousness of the disease. The nation also touts an adult literacy rate of 97.9% per the CIA’s World Factbook (for comparison, the US is at about 86%). During our visit, we gained first-hand experience of how citizens were adhering to mask mandates and social distancing. The Costa Rican people made it clear they wanted to do everything scientists had deemed necessary to return to normalcy as soon as possible with minimal loss of life.

Although repercussions of COVID are still reverberating throughout society in many ways, Costa Rica has provided an excellent blueprint for how to appropriately respond to such a crisis. We are elated for our return this December.

(Note: was unable to add images throughout this time for some reason. Attached relevant images/screenshots below.)

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