Sunday, February 21, 2021

A second Covid panic, this one over vaccinations

A few nights ago, while at La Frontera restaurant, an expat hangout, we were reviewing current events and gossip with some friends and someone mentioned that a local couple had actually chartered a private plane to take them back to California to get vaccinated for the coronavirus. The couple had almost hermetically closeted themselves at their home for almost a year as a precaution against contagion. 

The nurse will see you now. 
Without making light or passing judgment on this couple's decision—for I don't know their personal health and other circumstances—it occurred to me this might be a high point in the anxiety, sometimes edging on panic, that has hovered  like smog over the San Miguel expat community during the Covid crisis.

When the news of the virus wafted down from the U.S a year ago, a sizable number of Americans hastily packed up and returned home, figuring it would be a safer place than Mexico to weather the oncoming public health crisis.  

That proved to be a really bad bet, because while the pandemic exploded in New York, California, Florida and other major American cities, little San Miguel, with its balmy, outdoorsy climate and low population density, felt like a far safer place. 

Among those of us who remained behind, precautions against the virus have ranged from dismissive to hysterical. A few conspiracy loonies wrote off the pandemic as a hoax and "fake news," and have refused to wear masks or take even minimal precautions. At the other extreme, we know quite a few people who have adopted monk-like lives and survive on home-delivered meals and groceries.

Stew and I, and most people we know, have tried to navigate a middle ground. We go out to eat but stick to restaurants with outdoor seating and ample room between tables, and open the windows at home and keep a safe distance from people who come in to clean and do other chores. Most painful of all, we've suspended all our travel since the crisis started. 

Now, as the number of Covid infections appears to be ebbing in the U.S.—but still ticking up in San Miguel—the new panic has arisen over how to get vaccinated and where. Stew went shopping a few days ago at La Comer supermarket, another expat hangout, and the talk du jour was everyone's plans to get the vaccines. 

Another hegira is in the works, with nervous expats flying back to all parts of the U.S., for the chance to get the vaccine. Some fly to Tijuana to drive across the border into San Diego, others take day trips to the U.S. to get vaccinated, or crash the homes of relatives and friends across the border, for a month of so, to get both shots of the vaccine.  

"Did you get the vaccine?" is the question of the hour. 

Some diehards remain here waiting for a Mexican government vaccination plan that promises coverage for all, citizens and foreign residents alike, though it seems to have gotten off to a slow start. As of February 17, Mexico was 19 out of the top 23 countries ranked by the number of vaccinations administered per 100,000 people.  The U.S. ranked eighth, Israel was first.

The priority ranking announced by the Mexican health authorities is to vaccinate first-line health workers, and then people 60 or older who register in a government website. Registering on the government website initially proved daunting and triggered another bout of angst among expats, until someone discovered that, for some reason, Firefox and other browsers worked better than Google Chrome.

OMG, get the maid!
Now the government is supposed to begin contacting all registrants and assign a date and time to get the vaccine.

More anxiety is in the air: Should I carry my phone at all times to be sure to receive The Call? Some people reported getting The Call, but not understanding the message. Should I have the Mexican cook or gardener close at hand to translate The Call? Hey, someone announced they'd received The Call. Did we miss ours? 

So much worry, probably all for naught. From what I've found out, The Calls have barely begun, if at all, and the government plans to call individuals repeatedly. 

It appears that the government intends to vaccinate people over 60 in poorer rural communities first, before reaching San Miguel. Indeed, vaccinations have begun at the nearby villages of La Paz, Comonfort and Dr. Mora, and the government has repeatedly said the plan is to vaccinate everyone living permanently in Mexico. 

So for the time being, Stew and I plan to sit tight, continue taking social distancing, wear face masks and take other precautions—and remain calm, while we wait our turn and carry on with our lives.