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‘We Have to Be Careful:’ Colombian Town Stays Virus-free


Wearing masks to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, students walk to the one open school in Campohermoso, Colombia, Thursday, March 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
'We Have to Be Careful:' Colombian Town Stays Virus-free
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Nelson Avila lives in a rare place in the world where there are no reported cases of the new coronavirus or COVID-19.

When people enter his store, Avila asks them to wear a mask and wash their hands. He sprays alcohol over the money they give him before putting it away.

Avila’s shop is in Campohermoso. The town has 3,000 people in Boyaca state in the mountains of central Colombia.

Colombia’s Health Ministry says Campohermoso County is just one of two counties that do not have COVID-19. Colombia has more than 1,100 counties.

“These bills can carry the virus” said Avila, as he cleans his money. “They go from hand to hand, so we have to be careful.”

Officials and locals say the town has been able to keep the virus away thanks to the behavior of the people who live there. There also are many campaigns urging people to social distance and wear masks.

The town is far from big cities and that also has helped it stay free of the virus. It is surrounded by mountains and far from major roads. It has just seven streets.

“Campohermoso has a low population density and little contact with big cities,” said Jairo Mauricio Santoyo, the health secretary for Boyaca state.

Colombia has a population of about 50 million people and has reported more than 2 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Some consider Campohermoso a small miracle.

During the first 10 years of the 2000s, Campohermoso was affected by fighting between paramilitary groups and leftist rebels, said the town’s mayor, Jaime Rodríguez. The coffee-growing area has been peaceful for the last 10 years, but outsiders rarely visit.

Rodríguez said communication has been important in keeping the coronavirus problems away from Campohermoso. Messages about the virus and how to prevent it are broadcast three times a day on loud speakers in the town.

The local radio station also broadcasts daily shows that talk about prevention. To make sure everyone gets the message, the mayor’s office gave out 1,000 radios to farmers who live in Campohermoso’s rural areas.

“The whole town has come together” Rodríguez said. “The police, the health center, church personnel and the mayor’s office all go on the radio station to talk about the virus.”

Rodríguez said his message to people in the town has been simple: “It’s up to every family to stop it.”

He has also tried to lead by example. The mayor said he began to feel sick during a recent visit to Bogota, where tests showed he had the virus. He did not return to Campohermoso until more tests showed that he was free of the virus.

“We’ve put 60 families in town in quarantine because they showed some symptoms,” Rodríguez said. “But all of them have tested negative.”

Businesses are now open in Campohermoso. However, they only let in people wearing masks. The town has not banned visitors from other parts of the country, but those who arrive and wish to stay have been asked to quarantine in a relative’s home. A nurse calls every day to check on the visitor.

Campohermoso’s only school is open, but two groups of students attend school every other day.

The only other town in Colombia that is reportedly coronavirus-free is San Juanito, which is also surrounded by the Andes Mountains.

Officials consider the two cases striking because the virus has even appeared in Amazon jungle villages that can only be reached by boat or small plane.

Campohermoso has vaccinated 80 people so far, most of them older citizens over the age of 80.

Now the coronavirus-free county is waiting for more vaccine from Colombia’s central government.

I’m Susan Shand.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

mask – n. a covering for the face, especially used to cover the nose and mouth to prevent the spread of disease

density – adj. the amount of something in a defined area

bill –n. paper money

county –n. an area of a state or country this is larger than a city and has its own local government

miracle – n. a wonderful event

quarantine – n. a situation of being kept away from others to prevent the spread of disease

symptom – n. a sign or effect that shows disease is present

jungle – n. a thick forest in areas near the Equator of the Earth

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