Costa Rican Covid Culture

masked up in Costa Rica

Travel in 2021

Covid precautions in Costa Rica

If 2020 was a year to stay at home, or close to it, 2021 is a year for breaking out of the cocoon.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 89 million people in the United States are fully vaccinated against the Coronavirus as of April 22. That equates to 27 percent of the population. And, a high 41 percent of the population has received at least one dose. With the impressive vaccination rates, more people are traveling despite warnings.

The U.S. State Department and the CDC discourage travel. Just this week, the State Department expanded its “Do Not Travel list” to 115 countries.

Covid precautions in airportsYet, airplanes are still filling up. In keeping with recommended protocol, airlines require masks on all flights and limit food and beverage services. However, those middle seats are not remaining empty making social distancing impossible.

Travelers seem fine masked up for many hours inside an airport and airplane. But outside of those and other highly regulated public areas, many Americans are less rigid about (or eschew) donning their face covering and maintaining six feet of social distancing.

This is the land of freedom. Americans relish independence and do not always appreciate strict rules, even if they are in the best interest of public health and society at large. The younger, stronger, it-can’t-harm-me, bar-hopping, and beach-partying generation is not a priority for vaccines. And yet, they often ignore the CDC guidelines. Not surprisingly, in Michigan where a fourth wave is plaguing the state, it is the under 50 crowd that is filling the ICUs and ERs. 

Covid Culture in Costa Rica

Covid precautions in Costa RicaA recent visit to San José, Costa Rica, and the cloud forests several hours away confirmed Covid culture is different here from stateside. Vaccination procedures are not widespread. Shots are not available at pharmacies or grocery stores as in the States. People under age 58 are still ineligible unless they are front-line health care workers.

While all Costa Ricans I spoke to wanted to get vaccinated, less than nine percent of the population has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

However, the country is not at a standstill. Far from being in lockdown, it appears as if life is the same as always — with a few exceptions.

S@n José Inteligente

Safeguards are part of everyday life. Public health and private enterprise signage about Covid precautions are prominently visible, including digital billboards under the slogan: S@n José Inteligente.

Covid precautions in Monteverde, Costa RicaSidewalk vendors fill the heavily foot-trafficked promenades with wide assortments of inexpensive cloth masks for sale.

Outdoor hand washes are commonplace, oftentimes with foot-operated controls. Most taxi or shuttle drivers squeeze gel or alcohol spray onto passengers’ hands as soon as they enter the vehicle.

Shoe sterilization areas are set up in random places from medical offices to tennis courts. Non-contact temperature checks are routine before entering museums and other establishments.

Covid precautions in Costa RicaBars and casinos restrict business to 50 percent capacity. Similar to the States, some businesses do not accept cash, preferring contactless credit card payments. Every other seat is blocked off. Some restaurant menus are limited to QR code viewing and ordering.

To curb large gatherings, the popular Sabana park is closed on Saturdays and Sundays, and driving restrictions are in place on weekends.

masked up in Costa Rica

But the most jarring of all signs of the Covid culture is the fact that Costa Ricans wear their masks without complaint, everywhere. From inside their cars to out in the streets. The face-covering is just as much a part of attire as is a shirt and shoes. During one walk, I saw three GenX girls leave their house. Two were masked while the third put hers on as soon as she shut the door to her home.

At one business, I was the only person in a room with windows open wide. I asked the manager if I could remove my mask. “No. It’s a municipal requirement,” he responded. Outside of private homes, masks are mandatory indoors, except for when you are eating. Covid precautions in Monteverde, Costa Rica

On four different tours in national parks, reserves, and outdoor gardens, although social distancing was easily maintained, everyone was told to don masks. “To be safer.”

While things may appear to be back to normal, last year, one in four Costa Ricans was unemployed during the height of the quarantine. Many businesses permanently shut down as a result of the pandemic. Empty storefronts are more common. Underemployment or unemployment is high forcing people to seek new avenues for income. With a large percentage of the population still struggling economically from the pandemic, and no unemployment insurance or significant stimulus funds handed out, masks may be the least of Costa Ricans’ concerns. 

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