REYNOSA, Tamaulipas – While Nayib Bukele, President the Republic of El Salvador has crafted one of the strictest COVID-19 protocols in the world, its Central American neighbor, Nicaragua has one of the laxest.

“Starting on Monday (April 13,2020) it will be prohibited to walk on the street without a mask in addition to having a justified reason to be away from home. Those who are driving vehicles and have no reason to be away from home, their license will be confiscated, as well as the vehicle,” states the president of El Salvador on his official twitter account.

Bukele’s government quarantined the entire population of Central America’s smallest country (8,009 square miles or 20,743 square kilometers) on March 11, 2020 before a single case had been confirmed in the country. He closed the airports to all incoming traffic and the borders from incoming land travel. Anyone who entered the country was given a mandatory 30-day supervised quarantine after which a certificate was issued by the national government showing the bearer to be free of COVID-19 virus. Maria Torres, a Salvadoran who had been living in Mexico and who had travelled to the country in the interim was caught up in the policy.

“A brigade of National Police and public health officials came to my house because a neighbor had told them I was coming from Mexico. They tested me then and only let me go to my doctor’s appointments with special permission. Now a month has passed, and I have this certificate stating I am healthy. I wish they could take care of my other health problems with the same dedication and passion,” said the 53-year old who suffers from several health issues. She still cannot leave her home because the strict 24 -hour curfew only allows one family member at a time to leave their home.

On the other side of the coin is Nicaragua which has not closed its borders or restricted entrance from abroad. It has not required distancing or masks on the face. It has not closed any businesses. On the contrary it has encouraged baseball games, parades, concerts and cruises. The government is encouraging crowds instead of restricting them, all according to a recent article in the Washington Post entitled “Nicaragua declines to confront a pandemic.”

“We have a unique country……and it’s best to enjoy it with your family,’’ according to Juan Carlos Ortega , the son of Nicaragua’s president, Daniel Ortega, who himself has not appeared in public for over a month, according to the Washington Post.

Perhaps the low case count in the country spurs the policy and lack of concern. From March 19, 2020 to April 14, 2020, Nicaragua had reported nine confirmed cases and only one death, according to the World Health Organization. By comparison, bordering to the south, Costa Rica, a country with arguably the best health care system in Latin America, is reporting 595 cases, and three deaths between March 8, 2020 and April 14, 2020.  Such discrepancies are not going without notice in either country:

“Unfortunately, we are without authorities in my country and without measures. In 2018 they were there to repress and imprison when the people arose. Today, this dictator shines by his absence. He’s useless,’’ comments one Nicaraguan whose name will be withheld.

Josefa Bonilla, a physician and public health expert in Managua provided the following analogy:

“If you only do a few tests, you’ll only have a few positive results,” going on to say that the government will not reveal how many people have been tested. Furthermore, she claims, private hospitals are barred from conducting COVID-19 testing.

Costa Rica’s president, Carlos Alvarado, added:

“Calling for marches and crowds of people goes against the recommendations of the World Health Organization,” going on to say that he feared for the spillover effect of commerce between the two countries. 

It is not uncommon for different countries or different jurisdictions within the same country to take different approaches to disease management. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has largely left issuing Stay-at-Home and facial covering  orders to the individual counties, concluding that a policy that is correct for densely populated Harris, Travis, Dallas, El Paso or Cameron counties is not necessarily the correct policy to mandate for Kenedy County in South Texas where only 407 people occupy 1,458 square miles (3,758 km2) in the third least populated county in the entire USA. Thus, the County Judge in each jurisdiction sets the rules according to the reported cases in county, with an ever-watchful eye on the Governor’s office and the latest CDC guidelines.

Gillespie County with 26,000 inhabitants had closed all businesses except food stores and pharmacies as of March 21, and smaller Llano County, population 20,000 had basically followed the same guidelines, following the orders of their respective county judges, even though a single case was yet to be reported in either. Hidalgo County did not actually make such moves until cases began to be reported in the county about one week later.

In neighboring Mexico, specifically Reynosa, many residents are not yet convinced that disease is really in their midst and you continue to see people out on the streets and entering food stores either with covered or uncovered faces as they see fit. There is no mandate yet, it’s still optional and “up to the individual’s conscience,” to wear a mask, keep your business open, as opera singer Dora Rangel of Nuevo Laredo puts it.

“We are one of the countries with the lowest number of cases,” comments educator Miroslava Gonzalez, in response to a post saying that Mexico was moving slowly in restricting movement, distancing and other measures recommended by the World Health Organization, CDC and the country’s own health minister, José  López Gatell.

“I think that as long as we each stay in our own country, there should be no reason for concern. The virus didn’t begin here,” the elementary school teacher went on to say. Mexico has reported 4,661 cases and 296 deaths.

In San Salvador, Bukele believes there should be a great deal of concern:

“After the United States, the epi-center of the pandemic will be Latin America. The problem is complicated because Latin America has neither the resources nor health system of the United States.’’

El Salvador with its aggressive system in place has reported 137 confirmed cases of COVID-19. There have been six deaths reported as of April 14, 2020.

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