Costa Rica’s non-response to the Covid spike

The public hospital system says its capacity has been stretched to the limit

The coronavirus pandemic in Costa Rica has quickly taken a turn for the worse.

Monday’s update from the Health Ministry shows 743 people in Costa Rica are hospitalized with Covid-19. Of those, 328 are in an intensive-care bed. Both represent new records by a significant margin.

The Costa Rican Social Security System (Caja) says its capacity has been stretched “to the limit” by these hospitalizations. The public institution says it has a maximum of 348 ICU beds available for Covid-19 patients; Monday’s data mean 94% of them are occupied.

Notably, about 60% of patients in the ICU are between 30 and 59 years old. This demonstrates Covid-19’s danger to younger populations, but it’s also a reflection of higher vaccination rates among the elderly, as La Nación notes.

Meanwhile, 32 people have died of causes related to Covid-19 in Costa Rica over the last three days. For context, respiratory viruses killed 23 people in Costa Rica in all of 2018.

Official response inadequate?

The 1,830 new cases reported Saturday by Costa Rica represented a new high. The R value of Covid-19 in Costa Rica is 1.22, indicating each 10 people infected with the virus would themselves infect 12 others, on average.

“We are facing what could be one of the most painful chapters of the pandemic,” said President Carlos Alvarado.

In response, Costa Rica has expanded its nighttime and weekend driving restrictions, and mandated that commercial businesses close at 9 p.m. every night.

The goals are twofold: These measures limit some non-essential mobility, which could reduce contagion. And fewer people on the road (especially at night) means fewer road accidents, leaving hospital beds free for Covid patients.

But despite the record cases and hospitalizations, Costa Rica is still allowing: in-person school, indoor dining, bars and casinos, gyms, and religious ceremonies.

Costa Rica’s struggling economy — it has one of the highest unemployment rates in the region — has undoubtedly placed the government in a difficult position as it weighs the benefits of new restrictions.

Of course, since cases and hospitalizations are already spiking, new measures would unfortunately come too late to prevent an increase in deaths in a few weeks.

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