Michael Morea, 30, left for the United States two years ago. The search for the popularly called “American dream” led him to leave Buenos Aires, Puntarenas, and travel to New Jersey, with the aim of saving money and then starting a business in Costa Rica; however, COVID-19 took his life in April.
He is joined by Adonay Díaz, 52, who has lived in the U.S. for 30 years and recently married in February. These men are just two of the 23 Costa Ricans who have died in the United States since the first coronavirus case appeared in January: 13 in New Jersey, 4 in New York, 2 in Pennsylvania, 2 in Florida, 1 in Massachusetts, and 1 in Utah.
According to the Costa Rica ambassador in the U.S., Fernando Llorca, there could be an underreporting in the deaths of Costa Ricans because the official report is not transferred to the embassies. Consular offices record deaths only if a relative or acquaintance reports it.
Llorca pointed out that some of them were illegally in the U.S.
In the case of the deceased, the ambassador mentioned that the country – due to the context of the emergency – ordered the bodies of the people killed by COVID-19 to be buried or cremated as quickly as possible.
The COVID-19 pandemic has inundated the entire planet with death, as daily headlines show. The United States and Costa Rica are not the exception, both add deaths and infections;
However, the numbers are far apart. And even the Costa Ricans killed in the United States are more than double the deaths in Costa Rica.
According to data from the Central American Population Center (CCP) of the University of Costa Rica (UCR), it is estimated that 250,000 Costa Ricans live abroad, of which 125,000 are in the United States; that is, approximately half of the Ticos who live outside the country.
So what factors influence that there are more deaths of Costa Ricans from COVID-19 in the US than in Costa Rica?
For Carmen Caamano, a researcher at the UCR Institute for Social Research, one of the main factors influencing these numbers is the absence of a public health system, which makes immigrants less likely to be cared for when they become ill. Furthermore, there is no primary health care, while in Costa Rica the Ebais (local clinics) fulfill this task.
“Insurance also has small print. They can take care of a (bone) break but in the small print it says that only one x-ray is done. In the end, you don’t know if the bone was repaired because you only have access to one x-ray,” said Caamano.
In addition to this, the policies of persecution against immigrants by US President Donald Trump make it harder for a person who is ill to seek help, for fear of being detained or deported.
“When there are undocumented, there is the terror of going to hospitals. This increases the risk of infection and death. Many are dying at home,” said the researcher.
Another important element is that the work performed by the majority of Costa Ricans is related to personal care, restaurant service, cleaning, construction, roofing, gardening, among others; that is to say, they are dedicated to tasks that are not homeworking and that in and of themselves constantly expose them to risks.
“In the case of the undocumented, they are in a more vulnerable condition, since they have to accept any condition from employers so that immigration does not detect them, send them to prison or deported,” he added.
Ambassador Llorca, who is a former president of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (2017-2018) and former Minister of Health (2015-2017), added that until Monday, June 1, 91 positive cases of SARS-CoV-2 were recorded in Costa Ricans living in the United States.