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Breaking down Costa Rica’s current COVID-19 situation

September 10, 2020

Costa Rican health authorities this week have raised alarms about the ongoing increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

As of Wednesday, 509 people with the disease are hospitalized, and 237 of them are in intensive care. Both figures represent new highs and continue a worrying trend; two weeks ago, Costa Rica had fewer than 400 patients hospitalized.

“This is a dilemma that no one wants to face,” President Carlos Alvarado said of the pandemic. “That’s why we have to work together. Over the past six months, we’ve done all we can to protect the health of the population.”

When pandemic preparations began, Costa Rica had just 24 ICU beds reserved for coronavirus patients.

Now, the Costa Rican Social Security System (CCSS) says the public-health system has 359 intensive-care beds and 986 beds for less-complex coronavirus hospitalizations.

Based on those figures, 66% of the ICU beds are occupied, and 28% of the moderate-care beds are occupied.

CCSS will use private hospital beds

Costa Rica’s public-health system will further increase its COVID-19 capacity by using resources at the country’s private hospitals.

Under regulatory framework allowed by the General Health Law, the CCSS will add 22 ICU beds for COVID patients from Clínica Bíblica, Hospital CIMA and Clínica Católica.

CCSS president Román Macaya announced the news Wednesday, though he did not provide further details on the agreement between the public and private institutions.

Importantly, it’s not clear whether the private hospitals will allocate staff resources for coronavirus patients. Macaya said Wednesday that the lack of qualified ICU personnel is the limiting factor for adding even more capacity.

Deaths and cases are also rising

Costa Rica has announced 543 coronavirus-related deaths.

This trend is also increasing. Costa Rica confirmed its first coronavirus case on March 6. Its 100th death occurred more than 140 days later, on July 26.

The 200th death came 12 days later; the 300th came 11 days after that; the 400th came 11 days later; the 500th came in 10 days.

Health Minister Daniel Salas said Wednesday that about half of patients admitted into an ICU with COVID-19 die.

Daily new cases are also reaching new highs. While this follows an increase in testing, it also corresponds to a higher test-positivity rate (the fraction of tests that come back positive).

Costa Rica coronavirus test positivity as of September 5, 2020
Costa Rica coronavirus test positivity as of September 5, 2020. Tico Times graph.

Strategies for reducing hospitalizations

The CCSS this week began clinical trials of equine plasma designed by the University of Costa Rica’s Clodomiro Picado Institute. Authorities hope the antibody-rich serum will help sick patients recover faster and avoid lengthy hospital stays.

However, President Alvarado and others emphasize that the fight against the coronavirus must be a unified effort.

By slowing the rate of new infections, Costa Rica could reduce the number of new COVID hospitalizations. This would help ensure that everyone who needs a hospital bed, ICU doctor or ventilator can get one.

You can help keep yourself and others safe by following the Health Ministry’s recommendations:

  • Wear a mask in public.
  • Avoid large gatherings.
  • Stay physically distant from others not in your social bubble.
  • Wash your hands frequently.

President Alvarado said that if Costa Rica approaches a saturation of its health system, the government may reapply stricter measures. However, he also acknowledged that “Costa Ricans need to work,” referencing the record unemployment rate that has resulted from the crisis.

The president said half of new coronavirus cases in Costa Rica are linked to a social event or large family gathering.

“The solution is in our hands, in our action and in our care,” Alvarado said.

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