COVID-related notes from our nine-day family trip to Guatemala:
Easter is a big deal in Guate. It’s not only about religious services, street processions, and family gatherings; It’s also about vacation, and everyone flocks to the coast to frolic. That was April 4th. As a result, there was a spike in Covid-19 cases leading up to our visit. So when a rumor spread that the country was headed for a lockdown, it didn’t seem completely out of the realm of possibilities. This was anxiety-provoking for many people, and for many reasons. After all, when the country went into lockdown last spring, millions of citizens’ livelihoods froze, and they suffered. The housekeepers, street and market vendors, manual laborers, they live day to day. They do not have savings, many are part of the “informal”, i.e. unofficial economy, and the government did not help them out. Hunger forced many to begging, and they literally waved white flags of surrender and desperation, praying for handouts from fellow Guatemalans who were better off. This was happening all over Central and South America:
Some of my relatives are essential workers, and were commuting regularly during lockdown. They went to Costco and bought bulk supplies– powdered milk, crackers, packaged nuts– to create care packages they could easily hand out. It was a hard time, and a long time: through October 1, 2020. No one wanted to go back to that.
The lockdown rumors were anxiety-provoking for us, because we were so excited to visit our family. We’re all vaccinated or recently immune, and highly unlikely to pose an infectious risk to anyone there or here, so we were raring to go. Thankfully, there was no lockdown. The numbers have trended downwards, and the situation is stabilizing:
The downwards trend is not likely due to vaccines, however. There is a mishmash of various vaccines available, but there is even more vaccine hesitancy there than here. They have the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, and a batch of 200,000 AstraZeneca Covishield vaccines donated from India, at the beginning of March. But people are wary, and waiting.
As a side note, India is right now experiencing a horrific Covid surge, and their government is under fire for exporting or donating a good chunk of its vaccine supplies to other countries, like Guatemala. India has reversed course and is now holding onto its supplies, which means less for other countries. Their government is also under fire for letting down their guard and not pushing the population to follow basic virus prevention measures.
And prevention measures work. Personally, I was impressed by Guatemalan compliance with masks, hygiene and social distancing. (This was in the city and surroundings; it may well be a different story in the rural areas of the country.) (And, I wasn’t there for Easter festivities…) Not that we went indoors very often– it’s easy to be outside in the Land of the Eternal Spring, where the weather is always comfortably temperate, even if it’s raining. Almost all of our activities were in the open air. And we were active! We walked the neighborhood (a lot), we walked the dogs, we explored the zoo, we swam, we ran a 10+ km training run, we played soccer, we played on the playground:
And, there’s also strong scientific evidence that being active can help prevent serious illness from COVID. A study of almost 50,000 people who had been infected with COVID was just published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that:
“Consistently meeting physical activity guidelines was strongly associated with a reduced risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes among infected adults. We recommend efforts to promote physical activity be prioritised by public health agencies and incorporated into routine medical care.”
Honestly, to me, if we’re not moving our bodies, it’s not a vacation. Physical activity clears the mind, relieves stress, gets the blood flowing and delivering oxygen to all those hard-to-reach places. I’ve covered this in other Guatemala vacation posts for sure!
Mostly, we spent time with our family. It’s a blessing for us and a gift for our kids that we have family in another country, and I’m thankful we had the chance to visit, despite the pandemic.