Although snowbirds in Mexico decided to return in flocks to their home countries, my family and I decided to hunker down and wait out the pandemic in rural Mexico. We’ve built a life here that includes an off-grid home that works well as a bug-in location.
by Jolina Flowers, SHTF Blog’s Expat Prepper
Jolina’s related article: Expats and Guns – Defending Yourself in Another Country
Eight months later, I still believe it was the right decision, although it’s been a challenge to navigate quarantine in Mexico. Certain aspects of the culture have made sanitary guidelines ineffective. Mismanagement has added to the mix as well. On the other hand, there are some things Mexico is doing well.
Social Distancing in Mexico
As a Latin American country, Mexican greetings tend to be not only effusive but lacking in any social distancing. It’s considered rude not to physically greet someone, even when the population has been cautioned against it. The Mexican president, known as AMLO, was criticized way back at the beginning of this whole thing for kissing babies and shaking El Chapo’s elderly mother’s hand (the fact that he was communicating with a member of El Chapo’s family is a whole other can of worms).
Then there’s the whole idea that COVID-19 is a disease “de allá” (from another place), Asia, Europe, or the United States. While this may be true, just as the smallpox epidemic that reduced the Mexican population by 40% in a single year when the Spanish arrived, the disease is now being transmitted from Mexican to Mexican. Unfortunately, the idea that it is a foreign disease means, in Mexican eyes, that there’s no need to maintain social distancing at family gatherings, which haven’t ceased despite the sanctions given to groups of 10 or more. As a case in point, ex-president Vicente Fox was fined for not following protocol at a family wedding recently.
This belief that COVID-19 comes from another place has affected other areas differently. Some remote villages have entirely cut themselves off, closing roads with boulders or walls. No one who is not a resident has been allowed in since March or April, depending on the village. And they have remained relatively COVID-free. There have been a few cases where a resident returning after having lost his job in the city has brought the virus and infected the village. Other towns have refused to allow anyone, including residents, to leave and return.
Mask Wearing in Mexico
Mexicans don’t have a problem wearing masks, although it isn’t part of the recommended preventative measures. Since the 2009 Swine flu outbreak, it’s common to see those who are ill wearing a surgical mask when going about their business, especially during the cold and flu season. However, wearing a mask signifies the wearer is ill, and there is some stigma attached to that.
It’s difficult to explain to people in my area that even though a person feels well, he or she may still be sick and unknowingly passing the disease to those they have contact with. Although many stores are limiting occupancy and requiring masks, you don’t see very many masked residents on the street. AMLO announced masks are not necessary if you are an appropriate distance apart, which varies between 1 and 1.5 meters, depending on who you ask.
Lack of Potable Water
The application of appropriate sanitary measures to prevent the spread of diseases like COVID-19 is difficult when you don’t have potable water. It’s estimated that between 12.5 and 15 million Mexicans do not have access to regular, clean water. This isn’t just in rural areas. Many low-income areas in major cities, including Mexico City, are unable to get water to wash with.
Since this isn’t a new phenomenon, many villages, especially indigenous groups, have become even more determined in creating self-sustaining communities since COVID-19 arrived in Mexico. They simply cannot wait for the government to come and fix the problem anymore. Their health, and the health of their elderly and children, is too precious. In fact, in many cases, the government was the cause of the problem, redirecting water for use in factories, or dumping harmful chemicals into waterways.
High Rate of Infected Medical Personnel
Many rural areas do not have a doctor in residence and must travel several hours to seek medical treatment. The lack of facilities means that most of those who get sick, stay at home, and either recover or not.
Mexico currently has the third-highest mortality rate in the world. However, since only patients who are extremely ill and seek medical assistance are even tested, there’s no way to say how accurate those numbers are.
Furthermore, a large portion of medical personnel have been infected with COVID-19 in Mexico, nearly three times the worldwide average. There aren’t enough masks, gloves, and other safety equipment to protect doctors and nurses. If those that are meant to be healers are themselves sick, what chance does anyone seeking assistance have?
Mexico’s Unclear Guidelines
Although hand washing and social distancing have been encouraged from the onset, the fact that so many Mexicans make their living through informal channels means that states have been trying to bend the rules to accommodate the working class. This has created mass confusion.
The federal government set up a stoplight system that originally had red, yellow, and green classifications. Red meant that the number of cases in the state was rising, so extreme precautions should be taken, and unessential businesses were closed. Yellow indicated that the number of cases was falling, and companies could open with appropriate precautions. Green, of course, means everything is good to return to normal.
However, somewhere along the way, a fourth category, orange, was inserted. Supposedly, orange meant that the number of cases/deaths was holding steady. Nonessential businesses should remain closed. Precautions should still be kept in place. Then the red category was subdivided into a light and dark red. In both classifications, cases and deaths are rising, but states are interpreting which businesses can open. It’s not clear where the figures for this stop/go light are coming from anyway.
Our state is orange, but the town government has gotten around the mandatory business closures by allowing vendors to open from 6 pm to midnight, a night market. How that cuts down on contagion is anyone’s guess (it doesn’t). The local government has also modified mask-wearing to be obligatory only if you are going to be interacting with someone for more than ten minutes. On the other hand, stores and businesses have their own policies, with most requiring a mask to enter.
Other states have enacted “ley seca” dry laws that normally are only used right before elections. After a few weeks, the state rescinded the prohibition on alcohol sales, only to start it up again a few weeks later when cases spiked.
In recent days, Mexico has let out a collective sigh of relief. Vaccines are in the works. Mexico has budgeted more than 100 billion pesos to provide the vaccine to residents. Russia has agreed to give Mexico the “cure” they developed, and Carlos Slim has agreed to finance its production.
I’m a little more skeptical about this miracle cure. Clinical trials haven’t even begun yet. It’s a well-known fact that several vaccines in the past had to be recalled due to harmful or lethal side effects. It almost seems as if Mexico will be human lab rats in this vaccine experiment.
To add to the overall feeling of optimism, Mexico’s expert Lopez-Gatel has promised that the coronavirus outbreak will end in Mexico by October. Unfortunately, his track record at predicting the peak contagion period isn’t at all outstanding.
Undoubtedly, in Mexico, the safest course of action is to continue social distancing and improve our self-reliance as much as we can.
That’s the report from what I see anyway, as an American expat living in Mexico.