Coronavirus – COVID-19. The virus that was declared a global pandemic on March 11, 2020 by the World Health Organization has rapidly reached all corners of the world, including Costa Rica.
On March 6, 2020, Costa Rica confirmed their first case of COVID-19. It was an imported case by an American woman who had previously visited Italy and Tunisia before entering Costa Rica on February 29th, 2020. She tested positive as well as her husband who was asymptomatic and both were put into isolation. On March 7, 2020, Costa Rica had a total of 5 confirmed cases.
What is the Coronavirus Situation Like in Costa Rica now?
As of May 27, 2020, Costa Rica has 984 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
- 10 fatalities
- 639 recovered
- 335 active cases
- 16,368 discarded cases
- 24,438 total tests
- Age range of 3 months to 87 years
- 461 women, 523 men
- The first fatality was on March 18, 2020
- 9 fatalities were men ages 45 – 87, 1 woman age 58
- 180 foreigners, 804 Costa Ricans
*I will update this post for major changes*
May 11, 2020 Update
The government announced their plan to slowly re-open Costa Rica in a few phases for the next 3 months focusing on the local economy. All measures and dates are subject to change.
Starting on May 16, 2020, here are the new regulations until May 31, 2020
- Driving allowed 5 AM to 10 PM Mon – Fri. 5 AM to 7 PM on weekends.
- Beaches open 5-8 AM Mon – Fri. Closed on weekends.
- National parks can open with 50% maximum capacity and tickets must be purchased beforehand. These are national parks Poas, Rincon de la Vieja, Arenal, Cahuita, Guayabo, Braulio Carrillo, Carara, Corcovado, Manuel Antonio, Los Quetzales, Tapanti and Monteverde reserves.
- Recreational physical activity without contact allowed
- High performance contact sports without spectators allowed
- Hotels of maximum 20 rooms can operate with 50% maximum capacity
June 1 – 20, 2020 *The border is still closed until June 16, 2020. This may be extended*
- Restaurants allowed 50% maximum capacity
- Rest of the hotels 50% maximum capacity
- Public parks 50%
- Museums 50% with pre-purchased tickets
June 21 – July 12, 2020
- Stores can open to 50% maximum capacity
- Cinemas and theaters open to 50% capacity
- Bars to 25% maximum capacity
- Religious centers like churches can open with maximum of 100 occupants (respecting the 1.8 meter distancing)
July 13 – August 1, 2020
- They will see the situation regarding schools which is supposed to begin in class again end of July.
- Beaches with social distancing
- Contact sports with 20% spectator maximum capacity
Driving is completely restricted to all vehicles between 10 PM to 5 AM Mon to Fri and 7 PM to 5 AM on weekends. Only essential workers allowed and they must have a letter from their employer. If caught driving outside permitted hours, they issue you a hefty ticket, write demerits on your record and remove your license plates (which is a pain in the butt to get back).
Here are the other regulations.
- Monday – Vehicles with last license plate digit ending in 1 and 2 can’t drive.
- Tuesday: Vehicles with last license plate digit ending in 3 and 4 can’t drive.
- Wednesday: Vehicles with last license plate digit ending in 5 and 6 can’t drive.
- Thursday: Vehicles with last license plate digit ending in 7 and 8 can’t drive.
- Friday: Vehicles with last license plate digit ending in 9 and 0 can’t drive.
- Saturday: Vehicles with last license plate digit ending in an even number can’t drive
- Sunday: Vehicles with last license plate digit ending in an odd number can’t drive.
May 7, 2020 Update
Costa Rica extended their border closure through June 15, 2020. Only residents and citizens may enter the country and they must do a 14 day quarantine. No foreign tourists are not allowed to enter the country via land, air and sea.
April 27, 2020 Update
Due to the decrease of cases the past ten days (I’ll talk more about that below), the government started easing some restrictions on May 1. Movie theaters, gyms, swim schools and non-contact sport facilities can re-open, given proper social distancing measures are implemented and at 25% of normal capacity from 5 AM to 7 PM during the week. Driving restrictions are still the same. Parking lots and bike rentals may operate. Barber shops and hair salons may operate at 50% capacity as well as auto-repair shops.
However, some places like the movie theater have decided not to open at all even though they are allowed to because allowing only a maximum capacity of 25% wouldn’t even let them cover expenses.
The government will give a new update every 15 days regarding restrictions.
Beaches, national parks and public spaces are still closed.
Costa Rica Coronavirus Cases Locations
The epicenter of coronavirus cases in Costa Rica is San Jose (canton) in San Jose province. The next area with most cases is Alajuela canton in Alajuela province. San Jose is the capital city of Costa Rica and Alajuela is home to the San Jose International Airport and the provinces are right next to each other.
There are confirmed coronavirus cases in all seven provinces in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica has a population of roughly 5.09 million.
Measures Costa Rica Has Taken Against Coronavirus
- On March 9, 2020, Costa Rica suspended all large gatherings and started encouraging working from home.
- Costa Rica declared a state of emergency on March 16, 2020.
- On March 18, 2020, Costa Rica closed their borders to all foreigners, applying to land, sea and air. Only citizens and residents are allowed to enter and they must do a 14 day quarantine.
- At the same time, Costa Rica canceled all in-person school.
- Costa Rica has closed all bars. Some supermarkets allow only 1 family member at a time and have specified shopping hours for the elderly.
- On the weekend of March 21, 2020, all beaches, national parks and public spaces closed.
- Driving restrictions were put in place beginning of April. See above for driving restrictions.
The government gives a press conferences at noon everyday with the Minister of Health, Daniel Salas, reporting new number of cases and giving new information about COVID-19. The president, Carlos Alvarado sometimes joins when he announces major news and regulations (like border closing, etc.).
Is There a Lockdown or Mandatory Quarantine in Costa Rica?
No. Since the beginning, there has never been a country wide lock down in Costa Rica. Costa Rica can’t put something like that in place so the government stresses the importance of staying at home and social distancing. People can still go outside as they please with proper social distancing. Police won’t give you a ticket for being outside but they will give you a ticket for going to the closed places (like beaches), gathering in large groups or breaking the driving restriction.
When Will Costa Rica Open Their Borders?
Right now, the Costa Rican border is set to open June 16, 2020. This is subject to change and I’ll update if it does.
If you plan to travel to Costa Rica when the border is open again, please take the recommendations of your home country seriously. Please also follow the regulations of Costa Rica if they put any into place. We will write a post about regulations when this happens. Also check with your airline about your flight status if you already have purchased tickets.
Where to Get Information About Coronavirus in Costa Rica
Please check the Ministerio de Salud’s (ministry of health) website for the latest up to date information about coronavirus in Costa Rica. For news, check Teletica, the main local news channel in Costa Rica. Both in Spanish, so if you need to, you can use Google Translate.
Please only use these credible sites for information (I know it’s a little ironic since I’m writing a blog post about it but we only check these two sites and we watch the press conference everyday. All information I have gathered on this blog post is straight from the Ministry of Health’s website.) The Ministerio de Salud and Teletica also post constantly on their Facebook page and do live videos of their press conferences.
Do You Need to Wear a Mask in Costa Rica?
No, it is not mandatory to wear a mask in Costa Rica. The government recommends and strongly encourages masks for those who take public transportation, essential workers, public servants, caretakers, those who are vulnerable (elderly, immuno-compromised), those who partake in meetings that are longer than 15 minutes and those who have respiratory symptoms. And if you want to wear a mask, that is perfectly fine.
Costa Rica Has Taken the Coronavirus Situation Seriously
- Since the first confirmed case, the government began playing informative ads on TV for proper social distancing and public hygiene practices. They also play short inspirational pieces to boost moral (#estopasara).
- Costa Rica has implemented a 24/7 coronavirus hot line
- Costa Rica created a hospital specifically for COVID-19 patients a couple weeks after the first confirmed case.
- The CAJA (Costa Rica’s social security system) has done majority of the testing. They will also provide treatment to uninsured Costa Ricans and foreigners.
- Costa Rica will start trying to make their own testing kits so they don’t need to purchase or rely on other countries.
Is Costa Rica Flattening the Curve?
Costa Rica has focused on prevention since the very beginning.
In April, Costa Rica saw mostly a daily increase of single digit confirmed cases in Costa Rica. For example, on April 19, Costa Rica received 5 more confirmed cases. On April 27, 2020, Costa Rica received only 2 more confirmed cases. On May 4, 2020, Costa Rica confirmed just 3 more cases.
However, since the beginning of May, the cases have started going up a little to 12 – 16 confirmed new cases a day. With the easing of many restrictions, we will see what happens in the next few weeks and what the government decides to do.
Looking at this graph, Costa Rica has flattened the curve so far for the most part, preventing the overwhelming of the health care system in the country since the virus entered the country. However, the government is still taking COVID-19 very seriously despite the decrease number of confirmed cases. It is like “walking on eggshells” and “we cannot let our guard down” says the Minister of Health, Daniel Salas.
On May 25, 2020, Costa Rica had the biggest increase of cases in a few weeks with 21 confirmed cases. The Minister says that we are now entering the next wave of cases so the whole country still needs to be on high alert.
What It’s Been Like Where We Live
We live in Guanacaste in the Tamarindo area. Since this area depends pretty much purely on tourism for its livelihood and has a huge mix of foreigners and locals, Tamarindo is empty.
Many businesses closed their doors back end of March and April since there are no tourists. Some restaurants are open for take out/delivery only and some restaurants are open, complying with the 50% maximum capacity and social distancing regulations. Some businesses have had to close for good 🙁
In Villarreal, the small local town outside of Tamarindo, it’s more lively. Locals are still out and about, going to work, walking to the supermarket. Social distancing is not that well practiced and you’ll see groups of people hanging out and talking on the street corners, friends walking their dogs together or having a beer in the parking lot. Construction has still been going on (it has never stopped).
Huacas, the town at the intersection between Conchal and Tamarindo is also just as lively with barber shops, bakeries, local restaurants and fried chicken places full of people.
Now that the government has announced measures to slowly re-open for the next 3 months starting May 16, some businesses already started, even bars in the local places even though they’re technically not supposed to yet.
Other Places in Costa Rica
We have friends and family throughout Costa Rica. Yeison’s brother lives in Playas del Coco and the town is empty as well since it also depends heavily on tourism. There are still people out and about but for the most part, it’s very quiet.
Yeison’s family in San Jose and Heredia is healthy and safe. Many of his family members work for the government and the ones that can, are working from home. But the streets of San Jose and Heredia are still going on as usual, not many people strongly practicing social distancing. Unfortunately some of his family members have been strongly impacted financially, especially with the schools closed.
Jobs in Costa Rica
Some Costa Ricans who live and work in tourism on the coasts have had to go back to San Jose to find jobs. The reason they go back to San Jose is that you can find all the call centers of big companies like Amazon. Customer service call centers are a huge part of Costa Rica’s economy and Amazon has actually been hiring a lot of people lately because they’re getting a lot of demand for customer service. There have been a couple of other companies opening up positions for call center agents in the city.
I have also seen on the news that some companies that began during the pandemic, such as companies that make mask and hand sanitizer have started hiring people as there is a high demand for these products.
We watch the news every night as they do reports on the situation in various parts of the country. Quepos, Monteverde and La Fortuna are very similar to Tamarindo with empty streets and boarded up businesses as they depend on foreign tourism for their economy.
Farmers have also been impacted by the border closure. Places like Poas and Poasito, famous for their delicious strawberries are now selling them super cheap because there are no tourists to sell to and there is an excess of produce. Fishermen are having an especially rough time as they mostly sell their catch to restaurants and hotels.
Now with the country starting to slowly re-open for local tourism, hopefully the places that were hit hard will start getting a bit better.
Toilet Paper Hoarding?
No. Thankfully in Costa Rica, we do not have a shortage of toilet paper and we haven’t had any fights breaking out in the supermarket. There was more hoarding going on when the first cases were confirmed in Costa Rica back in March but it has not really continued since cases started decreasing. Supermarkets are full of food and supplies. The government has been assuring the public that there won’t be a food shortage. We haven’t had to worry about running out of meat, toilet paper or Lysol wipes.
No. There haven’t been any protests in Costa Rica. Even though the economy and many sectors are having a rough time, there have been no protests or strikes in Costa Rica. I would say people have been quite respectful of the government regulations except I know some surfers who sneaked onto the beaches to surf while they were closed.
The Costa Ricans I’ve spoken to are pleased with how the government is handling the COVID-19 situation, especially seeing the number of cases decreasing quite a bit the past few weeks. I can’t speak for all Costa Ricans though, just our friends and Yeison’s family.
Tourism in Costa Rica: The Impact on the Economy
As the border has now been closed for 2 months, the businesses that depend purely on foreign tourism are not doing well. We know companies who have laid off everyone. We know companies who kept one or two employees. The government has put in some regulations to help businesses but of course it’s nothing compared to how it would be in normal situations.
As it is now May, we have officially ended the high tourism season in Costa Rica and are entering the low season. May and June are generally low and picks up again in July and August. As the border is set to open June 16, 2020, we will see what the government decides to do when it comes to foreign tourism. It is an incredibly difficult decision because it is now become an issue of economy vs. health. But the government has decided to play it extremely safe and value people’s health and safety first. Making these difficult decisions have obviously helped flatten the curve of cases in Costa Rica though as you can see from the numbers.
If you’d like to help the Costa Rican tourism economy, you can do a few things if it’s possible in your situation (we know that everyone has been affected greatly by COVID-19 one way or another).
1. You can postpone/reschedule your trip instead of asking for a refund.
2. Ask for a partial refund.
3. Buy gift cards or donate.
The government will be focusing on local tourism first before international tourism.
What Have We Been Up To?
Since end of March, Yeison and I have been staying at home as much as possible. With beaches, national parks and public spaces closed and no tourists, it’s been very quiet for us. We created a home work out area so we can keep exercising and stay in shape for when we can surf again. Our dogs have been very happy as now we’re taking them out way more than usual for walks and car rides. We have also been gardening a lot as we live on a large property. I got Animal Crossing New Horizons which has been super fun 😀
Now that they have announced beaches will be open 5 to 8 AM Monday to Friday starting May 18, we’re so excited to surf again. We’ve gone to the beach a few times to surf, arriving around 530 AM. By then, there are already several surfers in the water. By 630 AM, there are a lot of people at the beach and even surf lessons.
The beach is only open for sports (surfing, jogging, running) but there are many people who lay down a towel and just hang out in groups even though they’re not supposed to. And we haven’t seen any police or anyone monitoring to tell people to leave.
As for me, I was planning to visit my family in the US this month but now I have no idea when I will be able to. Until international travel is open and safe again, Yeison and I will be hunkering down in our home with our two dogs, going to the beach in the mornings, working on some home DIY projects and of course, working hard on the blog.
Let’s All Do Our Part to Stay Safe and Healthy
Wherever you are in the world, let’s all do our part to stay safe and healthy. We hope to see you in Costa Rica when travel reopens and the world has healed itself.