My work depends on you being healthy

Alejandra Núñez’ workplace is both a safe bubble and a buried grenade. With 203 elderly residents, the nursing home Carlos María Ulloa, located in the capital of Costa Rica, is placing all its bets on one horse: stopping COVID-19 from entering through the walls. Alejandra is one of 23 nurses taking care of the residents and she is scared.

“In my work, if one person gets infected, all the rest are vulnerable. Everyone has a risk factor,” says Núñez. She means diabetes, respiratory problems, hypertension and esspecially age. The coronavirus we are now facing is more deadly for people over 60 years, a common trait between all the 203 inhabitants and some of the caregivers at Carlos María Ulloa.

Since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Costa Rica on March 6th, the nursing home has managed to stay safe with zero infections. However, the fear of the virus has altered daily life drastically: no family visits, private transportation for the workers, no unnecessary human contact.

Every time Núñez goes to work, her car, shoes, keys, work ID and all personnel items are sanitized. The doctors and nurses now wear mandatory face masks and gloves and all hands on board are washed and disinfected dozens of times a day. “Everyone stinks of alcohol,” complains Núñez.

Isolation has increased the feeling of loneliness and abandonment on the residents. “They are very sad and bored. ‘We are locked down, this is jail,’ they say.” The situation is hard to explain in many cases because some of the people just cannot understand the risk. Some others are just not used to being alone and are hardly capable of only seeing their loved ones through a video call.

She knows zero transmission depends on fierce discipline from all the people involved in the residence and that there are sadly no other economic options. “If there is a Coronavirus case in the nursing home, it’s possible that all the population dies. If there is no one to take care of, they are not going to employ 23 nurses,” she explains.

Back home, an eight months old baby and a partner await the nurse. They are young and healthy, both under 35, and they have been lucky so far, with no reduction of work hours or income. But they feel trapped and impatient. “My partner is tired of staying home, he has to telework and is always here. At least I go out to work and can see my coworkers, joke with them. I was free for a whole weekend and I almost turned mad,” laughs Núñez.

For now, she has decided to take it step by step. “My mindset is set on a three-more-months-period for this to end. I am hopeful that if it is over in China, it will be in Costa Rica too,” concludes the nurse.

June 2020