The darkest moments of the pandemic have arrived in Costa Rica

The public-health system has become overwhelmed by hospitalizations.

Costa Rica continues shattering records for coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

The public-health system has become so overwhelmed that patients regularly have to wait for hospital beds to become available. That includes some Covid-19 patients earlier this week who weren’t treated for 12 hours, and “at least 40” car crash, heart attack and stroke victims daily who arrive to saturated emergency rooms.

“This is already very serious,” the Health Ministry said Wednesday, as Costa Rica set yet another high mark for new cases. “Either we change and follow the recommendations that the health authorities give us or the situation will get worse.”

Let’s look at the data:

New cases are trending up

After averaging fewer than 400 new coronavirus cases per day in February, Costa Rica is averaging more than 1,000 new cases in April. That includes new records in three of the last five days.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases in Costa Rica shows the spike over the last two weeks in context of the entire pandemic: 

Percent positive rate is rising 

The spike in new cases is not because Costa Rica is conducting more tests. Instead, the test-positivity rate has seen a corresponding increase. Johns Hopkins explains: 

The percent positive is exactly what it sounds like: the percentage of all coronavirus tests performed that are actually positive.

The percent positive will be high if the number of positive tests is too high, or if the number of total tests is too low. A higher percent positive suggests higher transmission and that there are likely more people with coronavirus in the community who haven’t been tested yet.

The World Health Organization says countries should aim for below a 5% test-positivity rate, as that would indicate the epidemic can be contained through testing and contract tracing. Costa Rica hovered near 10% in February and March, but that has quickly risen 25% in April. 

The R value is up 

The R value measures to how many people an infected person will spread the virus, on average. A number higher than one indicates cases will continue to go up; a value smaller than one suggests cases will decrease. 

The University of Costa Rica (UCR) estimated the R value in Costa Rica to be at 1.22 as of April 23. However, a more recent calculation from Universidad Hispanoamericana (UH) places the R value at 1.37.

This means that every 10 infected people will infect almost 14 others, on average, foretelling an increase in the number of cases and hospitalizations over the coming weeks.

Hospitalizations and deaths are rising 

These are, of course, the most important statistics of all. How many people are ending up in the hospital with Covid-19, and how many people are dying? 

Hospitalization numbers are surging, and they are threatening Costa Rica’s national capacity. The rate of hospitalization is spiking at a rate never before seen: 

Deaths are a lagging indicator, because it usually take weeks after a Covid-19 diagnosis for a patient to die. Still, after trending downward for much of 2021, the number of daily deaths is climbing sharply:

There’s no way to sugarcoat this: Things are very bad in Costa Rica right now, and the government seems reluctant to implement strict measures to slow contagion. It’s probably no coincidence that these Covid-19 spikes are occurring just weeks after Semana Santa, the year’s most-popular travel holiday. Right now, all indicators suggest Costa Rica will suffer a difficult few weeks.


All graphs were created by The Costa Rica Daily using official Covid data

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