Starting next month, Costa Rica will allow tourists from several U.S. states, in addition to more than 40 countries.
One of the requirements for arriving tourists is that they present proof of a negative PCR coronavirus test from a sample taken within 48 hours of their flight. (This timeframe will be extended to 72 hours in September.)
The Tico Times is not the Costa Rican government — we don’t make the rules. But here are some of our thoughts on the country’s strategy.
Why is New York on the list, when they had so many cases/deaths?
In the words of Tourism Minister Gustavo Segura: “For us, it doesn’t matter how many cases New York had in June. What interests us is seeing how the pandemic is evolving over the last two weeks.”
From a health perspective, Costa Rica is focusing on a state’s new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks.
Using CDC data, New York (population: 19.45 million) has reported 4,567 new cases over the last week. Texas (population: 29 million) has reported 34,881. This calculates to about 23.5 new cases per 100,000 New Yorkers, and 120 new cases per 100,000 Texans.
Costa Rica’s approach likely involves more than just that statistic, but it’s the among the most significant factors used in determining whether a state is approved.
If a coronavirus test is required, why discriminate by state?
Requiring a coronavirus test does not guarantee that an arriving tourist doesn’t have COVID-19.
The Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawaii conducted research into how the tourism-heavy state could welcome visitors while minimizing the risk of a coronavirus outbreak.
They concluded that testing passengers before their flight and conducting symptom checking at the airport would remove “80-90 percent of infectious passengers from flights.” That would still allow several people each day to enter with undetected cases COVID-19, necessitating further contact tracing and isolation efforts.
The University of Hawaii’s report argued that the two-step strategy of testing and symptom-screening “should allow us to maintain epidemic containment.” However, as the number of cases on the Islands increased, the state’s planned reopening has been pushed back until at least October 1.
Unlike Hawaii, Costa Rica is moving ahead with its tourism plans. However, to further reduce the likelihood that an arriving passenger has COVID-19, they are adding the state-by-state restrictions.
Why not open all the way?
Costa Rica flattened the curve until mid-June, allowing the country to significantly increase its public-hospital capacity. As a result, no coronavirus patient in Costa Rica has been denied an ICU bed or a ventilator.
However, there is still limited hospital space (46% of the 287 total ICU beds are occupied by coronavirus patients), and Costa Rica is adding new cases at a similar rate per 100,000 occupants as Texas.
Adding tourists to that situation may be necessary economically, but it’s undeniably a risk to the country’s health system. While yes, tourists need to purchase travel insurance, that policy doesn’t create more doctors or hospital beds.
“We’d rather take timid steps that let us keep moving forward, rather than taking aggressive steps that might obligate us to go backward,” Segura said.
Costa Rica is intentionally taking very cautious steps.