La ciudad de Oaxaca, the gem of Mexican cities, was designated a premier urban destination in Mexico and Latin America by the World Travel Awards in 2020. It has a scarcity of gringos and tourists in the time of COVID-19. Oaxaca is not deserted, yet it is also not very busy. Locals go about their day-to-day activities, at a pace reminiscent of a time prior to the infiltration of world tourists and expats. It is quite a contrast from my pre-COVID-19 stay in Jan/Feb 2020.
Mexico has implemented a phased reopening of its cultural, educational, economic, and social activities, although the government never ordered a mandatory lockdown.
They use a color-coded “traffic light” system in each region and municipality to phase in reopening. There are four metrics:
- the trend of fresh cases,
- hospital occupancy trend,
- hospital occupancy rates,
- and the percentage of positive cases
determine the four colors that show the risk level from maximum to minimum: red, orange, yellow, and green.
Land border restrictions between the U.S. and Mexico have been extended until at least December 21, 2020.
However, American citizens appear to be driving and walking into Mexico without hindrance. Flights between the U.S. and Mexico do not seem affected.
In Oaxaca, local businesses are open, while tourist attractions and destinations remain closed, including museums, botanical gardens, archeological sites, cooking classes, and most tours.
Restaurants are open. Take-outs and street food are popular with locals and the expats that have stayed on.
The pueblos, which normally draw a great number of tourists to feed local commerce and artisans, are closed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in these small communities. They have limited health care options and facilities.
Currently, the state of COVID-19 in Oaxaca is yellow, having vacillated between yellow and orange in the past several months.
However, with the approaching Christmas and year-end holidays, locals are advised to take extreme caution. Masks (cubrebocas) are mandatory, and there are reports of individuals being arrested or fined for not wearing face coverings.
Citizens are compliant and respectful, with most everyone masked when leaving their home and many masking when driving vehicles. It is common practice when entering commercial establishments, to walk through a shoe disinfectant, have a temperature check, and apply hand sanitizer.
Most everyone practices social distancing.
Stands selling protective coverings and sanitizing items are common.
Schools are still closed, and the government recommends to “Quedate en casa” (stay home). Few elderly or indigenous adults are out and about.
Most returning three- and six-month U.S. and Canadian citizens (part-time expats) have opted out of their annual trek to the city. The tourist economy is hurting, yet local commerce is adjusting to a normal pace.
I avoid large crowds, gyms (which have re-opened), the large and busy mercados, and short-term guests at the B&B apartment complex.
Days involve daily errands (food, laundry, essentials), exercise (walks about, stair climbing, and swimming), socializing within a small bubble of residents at the B&B, Spanish lessons, exploring barrios, enjoying street performers and musicians (at a distance), writing and reading.
Nothing overly exciting, yet it feels refreshing to be out of the U.S. and immersed in a different culture — all while COVID-19 is rampant, and yet it is impossible to travel to most international destinations.
Wherever you are, please stay safe and stay well.