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Costa Rica and COVID-19: Six things you can do

I’ve been fielding some questions about the new coronavirus in Costa Rica, and a client who runs a tourism-dependent business here in San José asked if I would write about the current situation for the benefit of her clients and students, so here goes.

At the time of this writing (2:45 on Friday afternoon), there are 26 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Costa Rica, and the government is ramping up its mitigation measures in hopes of flattening its curve and maintaining the outbreak within the capacity of its public health care system. Earlier this week, any workers eligible for telecommuting were urged to do so; public events have been cancelled; and 344 of the country’s schools will be closed for two weeks starting Monday. This measure shows how the rise of COVID-19 has intersected with the ongoing water shortages due to an unusually dry rainy season last year: most of those 344 schools have been prioritized for closure because they have no water, with the rest closed because of cases related to the student body.

It’s hard for me to give an accurate picture of what things are like out there because I’ve been totally sidelined by a horrible virus whose symptoms do not align at all with those of COVID-19, and am staying home. However, I can hear people playing in the park outside and traffic in the streets beyond. I also hear that for the time being, life goes on, but much more quietly and with many fewer people and cars in the streets. It’s still summer here, the dry season whose end – usually in April – marks the start of flu season. It’s lovely out, and easy to get some sun and a walk without coming into close contact with anyone. All in all, Costa Rica as a whole is pretty high on my list of places in the world to be at a time like this, and there are many tourist towns, especially in the countryside, that would be higher still. If anyone’s son or daughter, including mine, were here in Costa Rica at this time, I would definitely tell the parent not to panic. You know, insofar as that’s possible anywhere.

The problem is getting here.

The economic impact within Costa Rica’s primary economic motor, the tourism industry, will be massive, because many people who would be perfectly willing to continue their trips around Costa Rica do not want to subject themselves to the flights in and out of the country. In many cases, with travel restrictions in place between regions, they don’t have a choice. More than 8,000 hotel stays have been cancelled as of this writing, according to the National Tourism Chamber, and this will grow, even if Costa Rica manages to flatten its own curve.

Here are five things I recommend:

  1. Call: For concerns about this issue within Costa Rica or to report symptoms, call 1322, a Health Ministry hotline established exclusively for this topic, or 911. Of course, follow all government recommendations, which at this point are similar to those around the world: hand-washing, social distancing and common sense.
  2. Check: If your trip is still on or you live here and you have any sort of public (or private) event coming up in the next few months, definitely check its status.
  3. Pay up front, if you can: If you’ve had to cancel your Costa Rica trip, consider postponing it instead, even if the hotel’s conditions allow you to pull out entirely. I know some hotels are charging people the cancellation fee (or full amount, depending on the lead time) but allowing them to use their stay later in the year. Consider doing this even if the cancellation policy allows you to cancel full-on right now: having that income at this devastating time will make a huge difference for small tourism businesses and will allow you to look forward to rescheduling your trip later in the year.
  4. Do some shopping or start a tab: Consider buying a “gift certificate” to a Costa Rican business that you can’t visit right now, but plan to later on. (Are you coming in 2021 and always hit up the same gift shop, or do you live here and always buy holiday presents from the same place, as I do? Maybe you could support them now and pick up later.) Again, this support could make a huge difference. I plan to set up a tab for myself at Santo Café and The Gift Sloth, for example. You can also buy products from Costa Rican microenterprises at Local Keeps and you don’t even have to wait to pick them up! Here’s my recent piece about them.
  5. Drink coffee: Consider this creative idea from Green Communities, the community organization I highlighted last week. The small mountain communities were crushed when nearly all if their spring tours were cancelled because of the virus, with untold economic implications for families and coffee farmers. You can order 50 bags (or fewer, of course) of their delicious organic coffee and sell it to their friends. Or do what I I would probably do, which is tell myself I’m going to sell it to friends and then drink it all myself. You’ll support rural coffee farmers who depend on these sales from tourists and volunteers. Learn more here or write volunteering@greencommunities-cr.org. You can also donate to Green Communities’ Emergency Fund.
  6. Donate: In addition to supporting your favorite small businesses directly, you can also check out Amigos of Costa Rica‘s page, where you can make donations to CR nonprofits that are tax-deductible in the United States. Many of this organization’s affiliates depend on donations from tourists and could use your support. If you love an organization that you don’t see there, maybe it would be a good candidate to apply to become an Amigos affiliate!

All the best and a safe, restful, healthy weekend to everyone. Un abrazo.

Green Communities via Facebook

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! Each month in 2020 has a monthly theme, and March’s is women’s rights, so browse recent posts for more on this issue.

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