Tuesday 28 March 2023

Repeating ‘Semana Santa’ effect could be fatal in this pandemic wave

CCSS medical manager fears that the population will loosen measures again during mid-year school vacation. Although pressure on health services continues, there is a trend towards stabilization

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QCOSTARICA – If people flock to the beaches during the mid-term holidays, which run from June 28 to July 9, it is very likely that Costa Rica will again suffer the so-called “Semana Santa” effect, whose hangover is still strong pressure on health services.

Semana Santa 2021. Packed beaches were a common occurrence. Photo from awalkaboutwithlarry.com

This is one of the great fears of the medical manager of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS), Mario Ruiz, who never tires of urging the population to avoid a situation similar to the one that occurred in the last week of March.

Ruiz took the opportunity to reinforce his message during an interview with La Nación, this Wednesday, May 26.

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According to Ruiz, the number of new confirmed cases of covid-19 has stabilized in recent days, probably as a result of restriction measures and the closing of all public schools until July, which decreased the movement of people.

However, the pressure on CCSS hospital services continues.

This Friday, May 28, there were 1,417 people in health centers due to covid-19, of which 527 are in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU), down from a record high of 1,482 and 545, only a few days earlier, on Tuesday, May 25.

“There is an effect that worries me a lot as a manager: I understand that in three weeks it will be the holidays. Then it could happen that the cases are decreasing and that the holidays generate an effect very similar to Semana Santa.

“This week (May 24th) an interesting phenomenon began, which I think will be beneficial: by suspending the school year, mobility decreases, which generates a decrease in infections. This will be reflected in about two weeks, which is more or less before the holidays begin.

“And there we have to bet on the responsibility of each family so that what happened at Semana Santa does not repeat,” the manager reiterated.

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According to the projections of the Caja, the number of hospitalized patients begins to decrease around two weeks after a decrease in the number of new confirmed cases.

The same thing also happens in the opposite direction: when confirmed numbers increase, two weeks later the wave of hospitalizations occurs.

CCSS experts expect to begin to notice a further flattening of the pandemic curve in about four weeks; that is, between June and July. But there is the vacation factor, whose effect on the curve will depend directly on people’s behavior.

Mario Ruiz confirmed that these projections have already been commented on at higher levels of decision, so that, if necessary, any restriction containing a possible crest of this pandemic wave is reinforced.

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“We have always bet that this (pandemic) is not resolved in hospitals. We can continue to add beds, but the problem is not the bed, but the human resource. The only solution is to decrease the contagion rate, and the only way is to avoid interactions.

“We cannot make the same mistake we made as a society during Semana Santa, when everyone went to the beach, they broke the protocols.

“Everyone thought this was over, and suddenly the cases started to increase again,” Ruiz said.

When this happens …

According to the medical manager of the CCSS, the institution is clear that, when the pandemic is over, health measures will remain in force whose benefit to health and care systems is more than proven.

He mentioned the need to maintain and sustain proper and frequent handwashing with soap and water.

He also mentioned the reinforcement of the practice of the sneeze and cough protocol, and a situation that the health services have noticed: better control of the lines, because people are arriving just for their appointment when it is in person, and the medical centers are also more punctual in their care.

“Every crisis creates an opportunity. This crisis reminded us of the importance of handwashing. In all health centers, at the entrance, there is a sink and the guard is reminding (people to do so). This has to stay, regardless of whether there is covid or influenza. It has to stay forever.

“Pandemics can happen at any time, and hopefully one like this will not happen again, but it has taught us the importance of epidemiological and syndromic surveillance, and of very simple measures, such as hand washing,” said Ruiz.

It is very likely, he added, that the use of the mask should be maintained for a time until herd immunity is achieved, but the need or not to maintain it later, for example, when people have colds will be evaluated.

The continuance of teleworking and virtual meetings should also be considered, added Daniel Quesada, director of the Center for Attention to Emergencies and Disasters of the CCSS.

Regarding the vehicle restriction for health purposes, Quesada explained that this is a measure whose legal implications must be analyzed.

“Last year, there were fewer accidents. It went from a monthly average of 4,800 accidents to 3,000, but in March 2021 we returned to 4,000. The problem this has is legal: that the Government can only apply exceptional measures under exceptional conditions,” added Quesada.

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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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