(QCOSTARICA) In the last two weeks, in Costa Rica, we have seen daily reports of COVID-19 cases rise from the no longer the same 30 or 40 that were used to hearing two months ago; now they are over 200 and even 300 per day.
On July 5, a record of 375 new cases in 24 hours were reported.
For specialists from the Central American Population Center (CCP), from the University of Costa Rica (UCR), each sick person is infecting today up to five times more than in April and early May.
While in April a contaminated person transmitted the virus to 0.4 people, at the close of June it rose to 1.97. That is, each positive person passes it to almost two people, on average.
In Latin America, Paraguay closed that month with a contagion rate of 2.1, placing Costa Rica in second place.
Following are El Salvador, Argentina, Honduras, Colombia, Ecuador and Guatemala. At the other extreme, that is, with the lowest transmission rate, are Cuba, Chile, Peru and Puerto Rico.
Nicaragua and Venezuela were excluded from the list “because their data is not credible,” says the CCP study.
To compare the position of Costa Rica, the state of Florida, which reached a contagion rate of 1.7, can be taken as a reference.
“It is important to underline that the R rate (Virus Reproduction Rate) is not an appropriate indicator of the degree of severity of the pandemic. It only indicates its potential for proliferation. To quantify the severity of the pandemic, it is convenient to use an indicator of mortality,” adds the CCP.
“This, the contagion rate, is a key indicator of how the virus moves in a population, it is not the only one, but it is one that we must pay attention to when making decisions,” said demographer and public health worker Luis Rosero Bixby, who is also a CCP researcher.
According to the numbers of the CCP, Costa Rica went from having one of the lowest rates in Latin America, in April and the beginning of May, to having, in June, numbers that place it within the first three places in the region.
“The number began to rise after Semana Santa (Easter), and since May 20 it increased more. Then we reached the peak of Latin American countries with the highest rates of contagion, “after Paraguay, said the demographer.
“In Paraguay, something very interesting happened. They were very good but there were outbreaks in prisons and this triggered the contagion. They are already working on it. There are other places that compete with Costa Rica, such as Florida, which I included in the analysis for having a very large Latino population. They also have a similar rate to ours. Honduras has also been in competition for this place, El Salvador and Guatemala have been rising, but they are taking measures,” said Rosero.
He warned that Costa Rica, with that 1.97, it has reached a very high contagion speed. This is bad, yes, but there is also good news: it has not risen sharply in recent weeks and we can lower the number if action is taken.
“A reproduction rate of more than 3 could be catastrophic and fortunately we have not reached that far. So you have to try to lower it, yes we can; Chile did it with more confinement measures,” said Rosero.
Regarding the factor of virus severity, Costa Rica is rather the country with the lowest lethality, below 0.4%. This indicator measures how many people die from the virus. Even with the 23 deceased, this number is the lowest in the region.
How the virus spread evolves
The graph shows the reproductive number of the virus, it means how many people each patient infects, it is recommended that it be below 1, Costa Rica closed June with 1.97.
For the CCP “this is very serious” because it means a potential for doubling every 7 days in the number of people infected. And to this, Rosero added: “Maybe a little more.”
How to lower the contagion rate?
The message from Rosero and Guiselle Guzmán, head of the Collective Health Area of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS), is clear: this contagion rate can be lowered, but it requires the work not only of those who design public health policies but also of all.
“In Chile, it was achieved. The so-called ‘Operation Santiago’ made it possible to go down, but more rigorous measures must be taken,” said Rosero.
Quarantine zones and sanitary cords were placed within the strategies of the Santiago operation in some highly contagious and high-risk areas.
The quarantine is embodied in the obligation of people subject to the measure of not leaving their usual homes for the period that the authority provides,” indicates the Ministry of Health of Chile on its website.
“The sanitary cord prohibits the entry and exit of certain territories. However, the population residing in these localities can leave their homes and move within the commune (if a quarantine has not been established in that area),” adds the website.
For Rosero, it is not a “copy-paste” the measures of other countries or do them for indefinite periods: it is to adapt them to each population.
For the expert, more specific measures should be taken for cantons where not only more active cases are demonstrated, but also a higher contagion rate, especially if the traceability of the links has been lost, as has occurred in the cantones of San Jose, the district of Pavas in particular, and Desamparados and Alajuelita.
“Stay at home as much as you can, especially if you have risk factors (elderly, hypertension, diabetes, obesity), but if you must go out, keep as far as possible, distance from others, wear a mask and wash thoroughly hands,” said Rosero.
Why does this number go up?