March 11th. That’s my date. That’s when it became real. I wasn’t even in Costa Rica, but the NBA postponing their season was the tipping point for me. Three days before I had been telling my volunteers and exchange students not to worry about the situation and that worst case scenario Costa Rica might close schools for a few weeks. I told them that Costa Rica lives from tourism and closing the airport would be a doomsday scenario and would be a last resort. Little did I know that would be the last face-to-face contact I would have with them.
Within 10 days of that conversation I had traveled to the US and all those doomsday scenarios had come true. Programs were halted and all my participants were on planes back home. I was still scheduled to be in the United States another week yet, however with the speed that things were moving I couldn’t risk borders closing or cancelled flights.
I decided to shorten my trip by 5 days, and return the day after Costa Rica closed its borders to foreigners. I have residency so I wasn’t affected and after hearing about the 8hr immigration lines when they closed Europe, I thought better to avoid any panic traveling.
My biggest fear was getting stuck in the middle of my trip, unable to make a connection due to a border or airline closing. I had one connection to make in Panama and I had no idea what I’d be arriving to in Costa Rica as so much had changed in 10 days. Feelings ranged from ho-hum, all the way to giving my wife a big defeatist hug, like Tony Stark when he returned to Earth in Endgame. So much had changed in such little time.
It all started in immigration. I was promptly served a sanitation order to quarantine for 14 days at home under the threat of jail time. It was advised that I not even stop at the supermarket to pick up food on the way home as the order was already active. When I got into town, physically, San Ramon hadn’t changed, but my perspective had. While my programs screeched to a halt, the rest of Costa Rica hadn’t come to a standstill. It didn’t matter though. My brain was set to doomsday mode. I went for a walk that afternoon in the field behind my house and it was eerie. Doomsday mode opened my senses to everything going on around me. Every rustle in the grass, every sound from the birds was washing over me as the new normal. These were the same sounds I heard every time I went for a walk but this time the atmosphere just felt different. Lifeless, abandoned, or even post-apocalyptic.
I’d spend 14 uneventful days processing all of this. Most days I’d try to figure out what movie/show I was living in real life. If I was ever at a loss, I’d just fire up Netflix and look for something to compare my situation to. Luckily, the quarantine was not a huge sacrifice for me. I was not infected (as far as I know) with the corona virus and experienced no symptoms. My wife was able to go to the store for me and I had no one to care for outside my dogs.
After completing the quarantine I decided to venture out to see what I had missed. 14 days is nothing in corona virus time and San Ramon was all but on lock down. Everything had closed except essential services and there was a car curfew in place. Places that were open restricted entry and enforced a 6ft radius. Going to the supermarket I didn’t see many things out of stock, except for some cheese. Lines were longer than usual and clerks were wearing masks.
Wow, how things had changed though. I was now living what I’d seen on the news the last few weeks, but not all was lost. Social distancing, safer at home, and lock downs have all been promoted/enforced throughout the world during the pandemic. The message’s intensity has been consistent in most countries, however there has been differences in its effectiveness across countries.
Costa Rica I’d say has done remarkably well in its efforts to control the spread to this point. While it’s really hard to say why they’ve done well, there are a few noteworthy exceptions in comparison to harder hit countries.
In the month since our first recorded case, growth has been very consistent at 20-30 a day. There haven’t been medical supply shortages and the government recently opened a new hospital that only receives corona virus patients. They have 88 beds and at its opening there were only 10 people hospitalized for the virus in the whole country.
It was painful to shut the borders and tourism is going through a never before seen “zero season” as in $0 revenue. There have been some rescue packages put together and the public healthcare system has slashed premiums 75% for the next three months. There’s even talk of imposing a solidarity contribution (read: tax) on high income earners to help the unemployed and their families.
Since March 11th my world hasn’t been the same. It’s been an adjustment, but I haven’t had a problem staying home. It feels so little in comparison to what health care workers are going through, but there could be worse places to be stuck in. My spirit remains high and I can only hope we’ve seen the worst of the pandemic and that better days will be ahead.