Uneven compliance with coronavirus preventive measures may be a bad omen for San Miguel

Despite stringent, almost draconian, directives by the municipality, for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, substantial sectors of the population seem to be carrying on business as usual. More worrisome still is that those seemingly oblivious to the lockdown are poorer sectors of the populace most likely to be affected by the epidemic if, or when, it reveals its full lethal face to us in San Miguel.

During an early morning visit to town yesterday, mostly to get groceries, the different responses were noticeable.

At the Don Pedro hardware store, where we stopped for about five minutes to fetch a PVC connector, our hands were doused with sanitizing gel when we came in, all the employees wore face masks and the cashiers constantly sprayed and wiped the counters and even the register keyboards. The place seemed to be rehearsing for “Coronavirus: Armageddon.”

It was the opposite scene at the fruit market down the road, next to a butcher shop. The place was quite mobbed by customers and suppliers unloading crates of fruit and produce, but except for a young cashier, and Stew, no one wore masks, gloves or any other precautions. Instead, this was a carefree scene from “Pandemic: What Pandemic?

Our next stop was Mega, San Miguel’s largest supermarket, which took us back to the other extreme. There were so many warning signs, bottles of hand gel, and masked and gloved employees, the place looked more like a sanatorium than a grocery store.

The coffee shop, where we would pause to double-check our shopping lists, now only sells bags of coffee: no more cappuccinos or sweet rolls; even the ten small tables have been removed.

No more elderly baggers, either, which is too bad because those poor folk really need any extra change from tips.

But even here, it was noticeable that, among the customers, only foreigners wore face masks. Mexicans didn’t seem concerned, or perhaps thought the gringos, with their masks made from cloth napkins, worn bandannas or random pieces of fabric, just looked too ridiculous, pandemic or not.

The public street market I visited briefly on Saturday to buy birdseed, was mobbed, and just like the fruit store, nobody seemed at all concerned about the virus, pandemic or preventive measures. An accordion player and a singer serenaded the customers.

“Death Valley Days” with hand-sanitizing station.

Most peculiar was the sight on the way toward San Miguel’s only shopping center, La Luciérnaga: A police car straddled the two lanes of traffic, cruising exactly at the speed limit of 50 kph, like a pacer vehicle. What was that about?
La Luciérnaga, was a scene worthy of “The Twilight Zone” or “Death Valley Days.” Liverpool, the department store, was closed, and so was Radio Shack, the Cinemax movie house, and just about every other store. The Telcel customer service storefront advised customers to come in only as tellers became available; everyone else was to stand outside, six feet apart, on spots marked with yellow tape.

Even my barbershop, the world-renowned “Rock n Rolla” hair salon is closed. So I’m left with a worsening condition most rare among guys my age—my hair is growing rapidly and leaping over my ears. I could visit Félix’s barber, a woman specializing in the five-minute, $80-peso Mexican buzz cut, but I’m resisting.

One more table to wipe, again.

Stew and I had a coffee and a biscotti at the Italian Coffee Company’s outdoor cafe, which was deserted. One of the two employees, a young skinny guy, fully geared with a facemask and blue gloves, went around spraying and wiping the four or five tables, pausing briefly to check his phone for messages, before another round of spraying and wiping.

The McDonald’s across the way was doing only take-out business and of the six tables outside, three were cordoned off by yellow police tape, presumably to keep proper distancing between the few customers, but at the cost of giving the restaurant the look of a crime scene.

What’s most disconcerting to me is the lack of current, or reliable, information about the status of the pandemic in Mexico or in San Miguel. It’s the uncertainty.

The government publishes figures, but absent widespread testing of the population, one cannot help but doubt their accuracy, and suspect the numbers might be seriously underestimating the number of infections or even deaths.

The question of the moment seems to be: Is the COVID-19 pandemic going to largely spare San Miguel, or are we experiencing the calm before the hurricane?

The eerie calm and light traffic in the city, and so far, few infections, point to the first, and more optimistic, scenario.

But the apparent lack of compliance with even basic preventive measures by the poorer sectors of the population—precisely those who might be most medically vulnerable—leads me to fear the worst might be yet to come.

I’m not taking any bets on either possibility.

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