This is the big question facing most of us who are not in Oaxaca now. We hear that the U.S. is preparing to have enough vaccine for everyone who wants/needs it (hopefully) by the end of May 2021. The question looms: When is it safe to return to Oaxaca? Naturally, the answer varies among us based on our comfort level for international travel safety and what it is like on the ground in our adopted land.
I received my second vaccine on February 3, 2021, and I’m just beginning to feel somewhat liberated. That means that I am now comfortable inviting a few friends who have also been vaccinated (at least three weeks after their second vaccine) into my home for a meal — yes, WITHOUT face masks! Just a few at a time! It means I’m not as anxious and can breathe easier. I know that I can still get sick, but it won’t be severe and I won’t die from it. This is a HUGE relief. I’m now calling this the New Normal. But, really, it isn’t!
So much is still unknown.
For example, Mexico just changed its restrictions and its variable based on state. Oaxaca is Orange on the Covid semiforo (stoplight) system of measurement. This means Restricted travel. Is it okay to proceed with caution and is it okay to go? Is this a political gesture to bow to the informal economy and build back tourism? How safe is it, REALLY?
US Embassy warning about travel to Mexico.
What we know.
- Vaccine is only widely distributed/administered in Mexico City.
- No vaccines are available for villages in the Oaxaca central valley.
- Mexican distribution of U.S.-made vaccines is almost nil.
- Most of my foreigner-friends living in Oaxaca are isolating, mask-wearing, social distancing and hand-sanitizing as before.
- Oaxaca only tests people for Covid if they show up in a hospital.
- Complaints abound of visitors who eschew mask-wearing and other measures. See Washington Post: Tourists are welcome in Oaxaca, Mexico. Their increasingly bad behavior is not.
- Friends on the ground there still say, Don’t Come!
- And, this today from Huffington Post: Is it ethical to travel internationally before the world is vaccinated?
- Bloomberg: Why didn’t the vaccine keep me from getting Covid?
- SF Gate: What can you do once you are vaccinated? A lot!
It’s springtime in North Carolina. The willows are leafing out. The air is temperate. Pollen proliferates. The sun shines. These are the days that Snowbirds usually make their way north from Oaxaca. After all, who goes to Oaxaca in March, April and May, the hottest and driest time of the year when temperatures can rise to 100 degrees fahrenheit and we seek shelter and shade.
Signs of new life surround us now. We are more than ready to put Seasonal Affective Disorder behind us and be hopeful. But, we must be cautious about raising false hopes.
- How long will the vaccine protect us?
- Will we need a booster and when?
- What about the new variants — will the vaccines give protection?
- If the health care system in Oaxaca is still strained, what quality of care will we receive there should we become infected?
- What safety measures do we need to take in order to fly safely to Mexico?
- What will be required to re-enter the U.S. or Canada? A Covid test prior to departure? Proof of vaccine?
I hear that vaccine is first going to Oaxaca regions where there have not been many cases! Why? My friends say, simply, POLITICS. (Think Texas!) The federal government can then say they have controlled the virus in some areas (because there were not many cases to begin with). My friends say it will be many months before the vaccine has impact because the population is so large and the case numbers are still very high. Mexico has one of the largest infection rates in the world.
On February 25, I reposted a Facebook notice from the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, the Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation project that promotes artisan textile development. The director, Hector Meneses, says that while many businesses are “back to normal” in the city, the museum will remain closed for a few more months. The same is true for the Harp Helu-owned Andares del Arte Popular Gallery.
The Facebook post (click on link above) generated a huge commentary from many, including a retired primary care medical doctor. She questions why it would NOT be safe for vaccinated seniors to return to Oaxaca if they/we take all known health precautions — mask wearing, social distancing, hand-sanitizing, eating outdoors. She notes that First Class plane tickets are inexpensive now and that would be her preferred travel path. But she is’t going just yet. Those in the informal economy would benefit from a visit and hotels are empty right now. True risks, she says, can be minimized.
Others say there is a huge strain on healthcare resources now, and if one needed medical attention for any reason it may be difficult to get it. One said she would return next year and spend twice as much!
Another notes that possible transmission by vaccinated people still poses a risk, citing an Israeli study that people can still transmit once vaccinated. Its essential for all of us to assume we could be infected.
We can support Oaxaca by donating and purchasing from our computer, says a friend. I am desperate to return to Mexico, she continues, but I’m also willing to wait a while longer and listen to the scientists.
The doctor continues: There are limitations to abide by — staying strictly in town, staying out of crowds, renting a car instead of using taxis, wearing masks, no van rides, staying out of closed spots, no cooking classes, eating safely outdoors. The minute one steps out the door the risk probability goes from Zero to Something.
I ask, How many of us can consistently adhere to that and still enjoy our Oaxaca experience? This requires discipline!
Of Note: Richard Baron MD, president and CEO of the American Board of Internal Medicine says vaccinated folks can fly safely (mask, shield, etc.). But there will never be proof of this since there are no studies to compare how vaccinated and unvaccinated people fare after flying.
So, the ultimate questions are: Is it safe to go? How do I protect myself IF I do go. What is my personal tolerance for risk? Is my personal behavior a risk to others?
In the Colonial world of conquered Mexico, we know that foreigners brought disease that decimated much of the population. Will we be transmitters, too?
Note: Send me your comments via email firstname.lastname@example.org The comment function of this blog is not working! Sorry. I will consolidate your responses in the next post.