Wednesday 27 September 2023

Bus stops could be a covid-19 contagion bomb

Distancing is impossible with long lines on narrow sidewalks; not all passengers comply with the mask and other protocols

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QCOSTARICA – It’s five in the afternoon on any given Wednesday in San José. Hundreds of people returning to their homes begin to crowd a narrow sidewalk in the capital that was improvised as a bus stop for the San José – Los Guido (Desamparados) route.

Crowds of people waiting for their space on the bus. Photo: Rafael Pacheco.

Social distancing doesn’t exist here. Neither are the ideal conditions to comply with that sanitary measure, because, if the 1.8-meter distance between each person were kept, the line would simply take several blocks.

Many wear their masks in line, but are exposed by those who refuse to use them, or leave part of their nose uncovered, talk with others or take the opportunity to eat a snack.

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Meanwhile, the virus prowls.

Although on paper it is said that the use of face masks at public transport stops and terminals is mandatory, here there is no authority to monitor compliance with the measure, writes Juan Diego Córdoba González for his report #CiudadPandemia in La Nacion.

Everyone is free to choose between protecting themselves and others, or simply exposing themselves to the virus and even causing a covid-19 outbreak.

Here, a single infected person who does not wear a mask can make others sick who do try to take care of themselves. They can bring the virus to their families and workplaces. The new infected will follow this chain with their contacts.

Despite the mandatory use of masks at public transport stops, it is recurrent to see in downtown San José, people who do not wear their mask, exposing others. Photo: Rafael Pacheco.

Actually, this is how the dreaded SARS-CoV-2 works. Take advantage of breaches, omissions or faults in the sanitary measures that we have all known for more than a year. The more opportunities it finds to spread, the more infections it will cause.

This disrespect for basic measures in times of high coronavirus contagion is what torments Juana Hernández the most every time she uses the bus.

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Hernández, 50, is a resident of Desamparados and has to use public transportation to get to her job. She wears a mask, face shield, and gloves to try to protect herself from the crowd and avoid bringing the virus to her home.

She not only sees self-care as a health issue but also economics. Getting sick would mean stopping generating resources for her home for at least two weeks, or for as long as the virus generates complications in her body.

“No, not even distance is maintained here, nothing is maintained. It is worrying. I come to San José every day, in the morning and in the afternoon, and it’s always that way, we don’t keep our distance,” said the woman.

Like this domestic worker, other people line up and take the risk, because they do not have the option of staying home to telework. They have to go out into the street, move between the sidewalks, take risks on the buses to work and survive.

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As they wait in line, the screams of street vendors, others who are gambling to put food on the table, spread particles of saliva, making that environment dangerous, even if it is an open space.

In the Coca-Cola market large lines of people wait for their transport to Pavas. Distancing cannot be met here either, although at least the sidewalk is wider than in other places. Photo: Rafael Pacheco.

“I’m worried about the distancing, it’s that there are a lot of people mostly on this side of San José,” said Kattia Aguero, 38, who works in an electronics store.

Luis Rosero, a Costa Rican demographer who at the beginning of the pandemic advocated for the mandatory nature of masks when the World Health Organization (WHO) itself did not recommend them, agrees that there is a danger of contagion in those spaces.

The expert points out the short distance and the absence of masks as potential contagion risks, despite the ventilation and air circulation at those stops located on public sidewalks.

“You should definitely wear a mask at bus stops, of course. It is still dangerous because people are very close (to each other).

“Now, it is less dangerous than if these people were in a completely closed place, like a subway station in New York. Luckily there is air circulation and that makes it less dangerous, although it still is.

“This is a general problem. The sidewalks of one meter or one and a half meters are also occupied by fruit kiosks, lottery kiosks, etc.,” said Rosero.

These types of images are recurrent in streets and avenues of the central area of San José. Public transport users crowd the sidewalks to catch a bus home. Photo: Rafael Pacheco.

The demographer of the Central American Population Center of the University of Costa Rica (CCP-UCR) recalled that the science behind masks is that all people use them correctly.

He also assured that people who wear face masks are also exposed by those who do not, since the masks are not 100% effective in blocking the aerosols that make the virus travel.

Internist, Dr. Carlos Araya, has the same criteria.

“Using the mask improperly is the same as not wearing anything. By not using the mask properly we are disrespecting the rights of others who are protecting themselves.

“We cannot take the rights of others into our own hands. If others are protecting themselves and applying the corresponding measures, the least we can do is protect them,” said Araya.

The specialist recalled that, in addition to correctly using the mask, people must handle it correctly to prevent it from losing its protective capacity against covid-19.

“In this, we cannot forget that even asymptomatic patients transmit the virus, and they transmit the virus in large proportions,” he warned.

This problem, of course, is not exclusive to the Los Guidos de Desamparados bus route, but is the norm among almost all 266 bus routes that, according to the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos (Aresep) – Public Services Regulatory Authority – enter and leave the capital.

Our main weaknesses in public transport

“We have had an unsustainable city model for four decades. The pandemic only came to put everything in our faces,” said David Porras, who is a geographer, planner, architect, professor and researcher at the Costa Rican Technological Institute (Tec).

Authorities and businessmen assure that they will find a solution for this type of improvised stops throughout the capital. The truth is that the coronavirus pandemic took San José with a problem that has been unsolved for decades. Photo: Rafael Pacheco.

The vast majority of public transport units improvise sidewalks as their terminals. The traffic congestion, pollution and insecurity that characterize the city center, today are left aside by the pandemic.

The real problem today is the crowds of people, which could be mitigated if the right conditions existed, the same ones that the country has avoided promoting for years.

“We continue with the famous (bus) stops on the sidewalks of our streets, a great problem. The sidewalks are not bus stops, they do not have the conditions of security, weather and now social distancing.

“Now this problem is even more evident. If there were infrastructure, an intermodal station, there would be perfectly covered space so that people can disperse, accommodate, addressing the issue of distancing. This is one of our main weaknesses in public transport,” said Porras.

Article was translated and adapted by the Q from the La Nacion’s “#CiudadPandemia: Paradas de bus pueden ser bomba de contagio de covid-19”. Read the original here.

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"Rico" is the crazy mind behind the Q media websites, a series of online magazines where everything is Q! In these times of new normal, stay at home. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

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