How to live in Mexico; My take on COVID-19 (the story I didn’t want to write)

Over the past 18-months of COVID-19, I have really tried not to use PVDN as a platform to dive into conspiracies or promote any side of the conversation beyond science and statistics from the authorities on the subject (health professionals, not youtube quacks).

I have received hundreds of emails from people since the beginning of the pandemic who want to vacation in Puerto Vallarta, or own homes here but haven’t felt safe returning to Mexico due to COVID-19. They all want to know if it’s safe to return to Puerto Vallarta, or they want me to give them my honest opinion about COVID-19 in Mexico.

This is not the story I wanted to tell because it’s become a political argument and I stay away from those. However, I view this as a health crisis without a political party, I can tell the story rationally from my experience and without political influences.

Here I leave my opinion on COVID-19, traveling, masking, vaccinations, and more, based on MY LIFE and experiences, yours might be different, and that’s OK.

Traveling during COVID-19

I have never believed in the ‘stay at home’ mantra that governments around the world have tried to sell to their citizens. That mantra has done nothing but given the ‘kookspiracies’ oxygen (things kooks believe). And most of the world does not have the option to stay home and not work. It was a failed policy from the start.

I have traveled very freely and lived the same life that I lived prior to COVID-19 (it’s required for my income), and I haven’t been infected (that I know of). This shouldn’t be fuel for the kooks to say ‘see, COVID-19 isn’t real’, it should be a message to the kooks that there is a way to stop the spread that doesn’t include drastic life changes. And there would be fewer kookspiracies if that was the message governments sent to their citizens.

Teaching stay-at-home as a method to stop COVID-19 is as effective as teaching abstinence as a form of birth control. We already know people don’t like the government to tell them they can’t do something, so that messaging was bound to be doomed from the start.

When I travel, I am 100% mask compliant. I am only maskless when I am in my home or hotel room. I only eat outdoors with sidewalk dining, and I have no problem telling restaurant staff if I think their tables are less than 2 meters apart. I also have no problem with telling people standing in a line near to me to back away. I always have pocket-sized sanitizer gel with me, and I stay aware of my surroundings and who is around me not following protocols. These are the reasons I contribute to not being infected with COVID-19.

The problem is, there are too many kooks out there, and then there are people who try to follow the guidelines but they just don’t have the willpower to be 100% compliant. Most people on vacation are not compliant, or not 100%. We use vacation to escape our daily life and release stress, which gives us a false sense of security. Even without COVID-19, people are more likely to be victims of a crime while on vacation for this exact reason, they leave common sense at home.

For the people who have asked if traveling to Mexico is safe, the answer is yes, generally speaking, traveling can be safe if you make it safe. But that is your responsibility because you already know that half the population won’t get vaccinated or wear a mask. So you know the risks they pose and it’s your responsibility to keep aware of your surroundings and your adherence to health protocols, including, but not limited to, getting vaccinated.

When I travel, even before COVID-19, my purpose for travel is to discover new places, history, and culture. I am not traveling and trying to find the best restaurant or looking to party at a bar. My evenings when I travel are pretty uneventful. During the day, I do hiking in my travel location, exploring the city, town, or village on foot, visiting museums, looking at the monuments around the city and trying to learn the story behind them, and dining on street food and carts. These are not only low-risk activities for COVID-19, but they are also the only way to really learn your destination. I have never understood the traveler who is just interested in the local restaurants and bars. So while at your destination, there are safe (or safer) options to really get to know a place that doesn’t require you to be indoors or in crowds. You might learn the new way to travel is actually better than the way you have been doing it before COVID.

The COVID-19 and Influenza comparison

Influenza tends to hit hardest in winter months around the world and dissipates in the summer. So influenza is only a problem for half the world at any given time and only a problem for a few months in each region per year. That isn’t the case for COVID-19. The coronavirus is active around the world, 365-days a year. We would treat influenza the same way as COVID-19 if it were a problem worldwide all year long. In fact, some leaders didn’t take it seriously at all because they thought it would disappear in the summer, like a miracle. There was a lot of hope it wouldn’t spread in the summer months, but that isn’t the case, in fact, the last two summers have seen huge increases.

About 50% of influenza carriers are asymptomatic, much like COVID-19. However, we don’t test everyone to see if they are asymptomatic carriers of influenza. You don’t get an influenza test unless your symptoms require you to seek medical attention. Otherwise, most of us take over-the-counter meds and treat ourselves as a common cold, because that’s all we can do. So our influenza infection rates are underreported because we don’t test for influenza with as much gusto as we do for COVID-19. If we did, influenza and COVID-19 probably have the same infection rate, but again, influenza isn’t a summer issue like COVID-19, where we don’t have a reprieve from infections. And, regardless of kookspiracy, COVID-19 is deadlier, and more severe symptoms than the yearly flu.

Places like the U.S. where their policy has been to test as many people as possible for COVID-19 have resulted in a much lower fatality rate, less than 2%. And of course, higher infection rates also come with more testing as they find asymptomatic carriers. Overwhelmingly, people who are infected are either asymptomatic or with mild symptoms compared to that of the common cold. However, that shouldn’t minimize the experiences of millions of people worldwide who suffered greatly from COVID-19, or the families who lost loved ones.

On the other hand, in places like Mexico, where the government has stated testing isn’t a priority to them, fatality rates are 10%, and the number of infected is drastically underreported, so it’s very difficult to really understand the spread of the virus in the country. If every country in the world tested everyone in their population and we identified every case of COVID-19, we would probably find the true fatality rate is very low and the overwhelming majority of infections are asymptomatic.


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The big COVID-19 scare

It’s been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic began. At the time, we didn’t know much about the disease, it was something new that spread quickly, so panic was born. However, over the past year, we have learned a lot about COVID-19. We have discovered better treatment options, even as simple as keeping a patient on their stomach, and vaccines have been developed.

Remember when we were told we should keep all deliveries outside until we completely sterilized packages, grocery bags, or food before bringing them into our homes? Now we know that COVID-19 isn’t spread through surface contact, although we see businesses, hotels, and even Airbnb hosts spraying surfaces for our mental benefit, not health benefit.

A year ago we couldn’t even find toilet paper in the grocery stores. A large portion of the population clearly overreacted and panicked in the face of the unknown.

There is no known case of someone being infected with COVID-19 just walking down the street and passing an infected person. The only outdoor transmission is that of people who gather in groups outdoors for long periods of time. Now we know we don’t need to mask just to walk down the street, but you should mask if you stop to talk to someone outside or find yourself stationary in a group (in a line outside or groups of people standing idle waiting to cross the street). But generally speaking, we now know infection from walking down the sidewalk and passing by a carrier isn’t really a thing.

COVID-19 is real and it’s still being spread, even easier now with new varients. But a lot of what we have thought about COVID-19, in the beginning, has proven to either be incorrect or not as extreme as we were once told. Death rates soared in the first year of COVID-19 because we didn’t know how to treat the disease. Now, even with infections increasing in a third wave, death rates are much lower than they were initially because we understand it more.

Hospitals are seeing lower occupancy because people aren’t rushing to seek medical attention because they have a cough and fear COVID-19. There is less panic stirring in the public. Also, vaccines are helping keep lower hospital rates.

Should I get the COVID-19 vaccination?

I have been very careful not to use PVDN as a platform to promote vaccinations because I think that is a personal choice and people don’t need to be shamed for their choices (most of the time).

I am vaccinated, that was my personal choice. I had no side effects from the injection.

Now to the controversy of the COVID-19 vaccination. There are legitimate reasons to be concerned about getting vaccinated. The vaccines have about 9-months in real-world usage. We don’t know if there will be long-term effects from vaccination, although it’s unlikely, which is why I made my personal choice to be vaccinated. But there is no long-term study, so people concerned should be respected for their choice.

We also don’t know how long immunity will last. It’s beginning to look like this might be a yearly vaccination. Some of the vaccines are also developed using new technology and sequencing that hasn’t been used before in vaccinations. While the vaccine has proven to be safe and effective in the past nine months, that isn’t enough time to determine its safety and effectiveness in the long term, this is why the vaccine is categorized as emergency use. More long-term data would be needed for complete approval. That data isn’t available yet. Even the difference of opinion between the CDC and vaccine makers on the need for a third booster shot shows that even the medical experts aren’t in agreement with the vaccines and their effectiveness in the long-term.

If you’re concerned about the COVID-19 vaccine because of possible long-term impacts, your concerns are completely valid and no one should shame you for your decision not to be vaccinated. This is a personal choice and we each need to weigh the risk vs. reward of vaccination for us personally. At the same time, those who choose not to be vaccinated shouldn’t be shaming those who are vaccinated and shouldn’t be discouraging it for others. It’s a personal choice.

I will say this, the fewer people vaccinated, the more chances there are for future varients to develop and likely outsmart the vaccines we have. So not being vaccinated could leave an opportunity for COVID-19 to mutate into something more deadly that can break our immunity. So, if not being vaccinated is just a choice that you don’t think you need it, laziness, or you are on the fence. I just ask you to consider the role you could play in stopping (or helping) future varients that we aren’t prepared for. If you are still not convinced the vaccine is safe, it’s understandable, then please consider mask usage.


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If vaccines work, why are we having a third-wave?

A lot of kooks are looking at the third wave of COVID as proof that vaccines do not work, ignoring the fact that less than 1% of all infections being reported right now are in vaccinated people, although about 50% of the population is vaccinated (U.S. statistics). In fact, the third wave is proving that vaccines work. There is a third wave because of variants, such as delta, that are more contagious, thus spreading faster (among the unvaccinated). Also, there is still a very low percentage of people who are fully vaccinated which means there are still plenty of opportunities for the virus to find a host. And, lastly, after a year, people are losing patience with health protocols and some have a false sense of security that the vaccine means the end of COVID-19. Without the few vaccinated people in the world, the third wave would be much worse. The reports are clear, the people testing positive now for COVID-19 are overwhelmingly the unvaccinated population and likely people who don’t follow health protocols. Just a reminder, if you aren’t vaccinated, the virus is looking for you, it needs a host.

I don’t care, I am not going to wear a mask or take a vaccine

Like I said. There are legitimate reasons for vaccine concern, and that is a personal choice. However, if you refuse to wear a mask, your choice has nothing to do with vaccine concerns. You are trying to make a ‘statement’ or make a pandemic about politics instead of the health of your community. I don’t care if you think COVID-19 is fake or you think wearing a mask or taking a vaccine would strip you of your rights. Although your refusal actually strips the people around you of their rights. I digress. The real issue is the economy, stupid.

The refusal to wear masks or take a vaccine is why the virus continues to spread, and much of the world is now seeing an increase in cases because of variants that are easier to transmit and the refusal to follow basic health protocols. As this wave continues, and there are people refusing to do their part, we will see harsher restrictions and return to business closures. People will once again be out of work, and in Mexico, there isn’t any unemployment to fall back on, and all because you try to take a stand without a cause, millions will be out of work again, homeless, and children going to sleep hungry. It doesn’t need to be this way anymore. We have options to stop the spread of the virus.

Of course, there are the kooks who believe COVID-19 is a global hoax being orchestrated by every government, hospital, and healthcare worker in the world, it’s all fake so no mask or vaccine is needed. We can’t help stupid here, but we can appeal to people with common sense. There is no reason to try to convince a kook, and we shouldn’t even try, we should plead to reasonable people only.

COVID-19 separates the selfless from the selfish

I am relatively young (49) and in good health, with no preexisting conditions. If I were to be infected with COVID-19, I would likely be among the majority who are asymptomatic or with mild symptoms. My risk of death, statistically, would be very low, almost non-existent. However, I have worn a mask for over a year, socially distanced, and was vaccinated. Not because I feared contracting COVID-19. I feared I would be an asymptomatic carrier, like many in my age group without any preexisting condition, thus unknowingly infecting other people who may be older or with preexisting conditions. My caution and vaccination have been about keeping other people safe, not me.

It’s fine if you don’t think COVID-19 is that serious. However, over four million people worldwide have died over the past 18-months from COVID-19. So it’s serious to some people and there are over four million grieving friends, family, mothers, fathers, sons, and sisters worldwide. Maybe you are like me and COVID-19 hasn’t left a loss in your family, we are lucky, but that doesn’t mean it’s fake or not serious for millions of other people. If you wearing a mask could save a little girl from losing her mother to COVID-19, wouldn’t you want to do that? It’s an easy choice for most people.

COVID-19 spread across the globe in just a few short months because we are all connected. The six degrees of separation are true. A study found that every American is connected within three friendships. That is how viruses can spread the globe so quickly. One person who refuses to wear a mask because they don’t think the virus is that serious, can unknowingly be asymptomatic and be responsible for thousands of deaths. That is how connected we are in the world, even if you think you only have a small circle of friends and family, your connections stretch worldwide.

People who choose to NOT be vaccinated AND not wear a mask are those who are selfish. The others, who choose to either wear a mask, or be vaccinated, or in some cases both, are the people who have put the health and lives of the vulnerable above their own. Those are the people saving lives.

Clarification

After being published for 24-hours I have received an overwhelming response, over 200 emails with positive feedback. However, I did receive two negative comments that were misleading and I want to make sure I provide clarification for anyone who is confused.

I did (and still do now, as a vaccinated person who still masks) travel during the pandemic because it’s my job. I don’t have the luxury of sitting at home for 18-months. So in relation to the section about traveling during COVID-19, I think it’s responsible for those of us who have traveled successfully, following all protocols, and not being infected, to share with other people who are traveling, or thinking about traveling, or just simply leaving their home, how to do it safely. Get vaccinated or dedicate yourself to 100% mask-wearing. Keep a healthy distance regardless of your vaccination status. Don’t go to bars and clubs, if you dine at a restaurant, choose outdoor dining, and don’t hesitate to complain to your waiter if you feel like other people are being sat too close to you. Stay away from large groups of people, whether it be indoors or outdoors. If it’s not avoidable, wear a mask, even if you have already been vaccinated. There is nothing irresponsible in saying that, in fact, it should have been said 18-months ago, we probably wouldn’t be talking about a third wave if we were honest that the ‘stay at home’ message wasn’t a viable solution and we needed to spend more time messaging mitigation.

No, I don’t recommend traveling like pre-pandemic. However, if you need to travel, or choose to travel as your PERSONAL choice, then I want you to know what steps you need to take to be safe. I am not with my head in the sand. COVID isn’t spreading because people are leaving their homes, going to a restaurant, or taking a vacation. The simple act of leaving the confines to your house isn’t irresponsible. In fact, most infections take place in the home within the family unit where a father, mother, or child was infected and came home and infected the rest of the family. The problem is that people are still leaving their homes AND not following protocols.

Lastly, the second complaint I received was someone telling me they didn’t like that I was saying I don’t care if old people get infected with COVID. That is part of the kookspiracy we all deal with any time we mention COVID and why there is so much misinformation. People will make stuff up just to find a reason to create an argument and throw people off the scent of truth. It’s the main reason I really didn’t want to write this opinion piece. I knew the kooks aren’t capable of reading anything and comprehending it as it’s written. But I think the importance of this message outweighs the annoyance of irrational thinkers.

Conclusion

COVID-19 is real and there are ways to protect you, the people you love, the people you come in contact with, and the millions of people that have a connection to you around the world. We are at a point now that we shouldn’t be giving up anything in life any longer. Even the CDC has dropped the ‘stay at home’ mantra. We have choices now, and vaccines seem to be the most effective choice to get back to somewhat normal lives. But if you don’t get vaccinated, you should be dedicated to 100% mask adherence. I am not here to hammer the vaccine message, only recommend you consider the option seriously and not let politics play a role. Being against vaccines AND mask-wearing is no longer sustainable or acceptable. You are just a pendejo at this point.

I will make a personal appeal on behalf of the people of Puerto Vallarta. Please get vaccinated or wear your mask without fail. We are seeing a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases and the health board is considering what needs to be done to control the virus in the third wave. I don’t want more business closures. I don’t want my friends to be without jobs again. I want us to live smart in Puerto Vallarta. If you don’t live in Puerto Vallarta but you want to vacation here, please be fully vaccinated before you visit us. If you have legitimate vaccine concerns, please do everything you can do to help mitigate the problem. Wear a mask, wash your hands, and social distance. Forget the bars and nightclubs. We need tourism in our city, but we can’t afford irresponsible tourism closing our businesses and putting our citizens out of work. Help us help them. Travel smart.

I am proudly fully vaccinated and still mask up in crowds or indoors of public spaces. I am responsible.


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Ian Hayden Parker is the founder of PVDN and has been living as an expat in Mexico for the past 12 years. You can contact Ian Hayden Parker to suggest a topic for the next issue of How to Live in Mexico by submitting your feedback here. I welcome all feedback, even disagreements, as long as those disagreements are presented with respect. I won’t read messages that are disrespectful and I won’t use my energy for negativity.

You can also join the PVDN Newsletter to receive daily news and more articles like this, join the newsletter here.

How to live in Mexico is a new series of posts dealing with life as an expat in Mexico and lessons that have been learned over the last 12 years as an expat. This series is opinions based on my own experiences as an expat in Mexico and each individual should expect different experiences through their own personal journey.


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