(QCOSTARICA) A “quinceañera” party with a horse show included and a clandestine bar, detonated the explosion of cases of COVID-19 that during the months of July and August impacted the southern area of Costa Rican.
The Brunca Region, made up of the cantons of Pérez Zeledón, Buenos Aires, Osa, Golfito, Corredores, and Coto Brus, presented the most important percentage growth of infections in the country, with an increase of 1,562%.
Of this increase, most of the cases originated in Corredores, where the “quinceaños” (a party the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday, marking her passage from girlhood to womanhood) and horse parade took place, which combined with a series of unfortunate “coincidences” and other factors, caused the virus to begin to spread throughout the canton and even to neighboring Golfito.
This is how the border canton, which had been kept free of COVID-19 until the end of May, went from 38 cases to 650 cases in two months.
By June, the term social bubbles was already resounding daily as one of the golden rules to slow down the curve of cases that was beginning to rise.
Breaking that rule to celebrate a quinceaños made everything that could go wrong conjugated so that COVID-19 entered the Ciudad Neilly hospital for the first time, in the district, in the middle of that month.
This was reported by the director of the Integrated Network of Brunca Health Services of the Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS), Luis Carlos Vega Martínez, who obtained information about the celebration to understand the spread of the virus.
“In La Cuesta they celebrated a quinceañera and had a horse parade and the consumption of alcohol and drugs — marijuana — that were passed from one person to another. We began to see minors who were infected and there began an increase in cases, 22 cases were reported in a period of eight days (…) the mother of one of those who participated is a nurse, works in the hospital and then there a cluster inside and outside the hospital,” he said.
The other young people attending the celebration also brought the virus home.
Almost at the same time in Pavones de Golfito, the operation of a clandestine bar sent a good part of the residents of the small coastal town, located in the southernmost part of Costa Rica’s Pacific, to quarantine, and even affected the local Health clinic.
“When the review what was in Golfito, we found that the owner of a bar was there, that he had a speakeasy and was going to buy liquors and food from Paso Canoas. There the sequence of cases began in the canton, it all began with the customers of that bar who had contact with him, brought the virus home and began the spread in the district of Pavones, which had the most increase, it was a complex situation because there was a restriction (on the operation of bars) but being in a remote area, the conditions favored it,” Vega said.
The regional director of the Rectory of Health Brunca, Cristian Valverde Alpízar, added that, in addition to these activities, there was also a children’s party from where cases in a shantytown area of Paso Canoas were recorded in July.
Both doctors assure that although the disseminating factor were the activities, the origin of the cases – mostly – is associated with the border issue and the commercial and labor exchange that is common for the residents.
“The main clusters always have a direct relationship with links on the Panamanian side, what has happened is that they are people who, because they live in the border area, have a close relationship with Panamanian commerce, are in contact with Panamanians (…) ”, added Valverde.
Health Minister, Dr. Daniel Salas, has warned of family gatherings, parties, activities for Mother’s Day, of activities with a large number of people.
The warnings were not heeded, perhaps given that at the time the major number of cases were concentrated in the Central Valley and northern areas, people felt they were safe fromt the virus.
According to data from that regional office, in the southern part of the country more than 60% of the cases in which there is an identified link are associated with social activities, such as parties and family gatherings.
The figure released the previous week for countrywide is that the percentage where the contagion occurred in these types of contexts was around 55%.
The effect of Corredores also influenced the increases registered in neighboring cantons such as Osa and Golfito; In Osa the greatest source of contagion is the one that was registered since last August 26 at the Palmar Sur Nursing Home.
By last Thursday, all of the 45 elderly residents were infected, two of them died and six were in the hospital, while 12 of the 15 workers at the center also tested positive.
Though regional directors of Health and CCSS currently handling three possible hypotheses about how the virus reached that long-stay home, all are associated with contacts that were related to Golfito and Corredores cases.
Trend continues into September
In the first days of September, the trend in the region during July and August is continued.
In the first eight days of September, the area accumulated 236 new cases for a daily average of 29.5 positives per day. The figure is higher than the 18.6 daily cases averaged in August and the 14.5 in July.
Corredores is the canton with the most new cases at the beginning of September with 91, followed by Golfito and Osa with 49 and 37, respectively. Pérez Zeledón accumulated 36 new positives, Coto Brus 13 and Buenos Aires 10.
Why was the alert in Corredores lowered?
Despite continuing to be the canton with the highest number of cases, the previous week the National Emergency Commission (CNE) decided to lower the alert level in Corridors.
According to the Ministry of Health, the decision was made because there has been a drop in cases and because it was necessary to give a break to the economy of this canton.
To this is added that in neighboring Panama, in recent days stronger restriction measures have been taken, which could also lower the pressure on the increase in cases in the border canton, since, for example, total closures are maintained in shops on weekends and in some cases, restrictions are also established for the movement of people.
Yeison Hay, president of the Municipal Emergency Committee in that canton, adds that by lowering the alert level, initially in the main district and then throughout the canton, people did no longer have to go to the Panamanian side to shop.
According to the leader of the Committee, they are currently working on awareness campaigns in order not to lose that lower (yellow) status.
The messages are directed not only in the basic rules of hygiene, the use of masks (now obligatory), and distancing, but they urge people to buy in the local business and denounce the speakeasies.