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To remain virus-free, a Colombian town employs discipline and speakers.

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To remain virus-free, a Colombian town employs discipline and speakers.
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To remain virus-free, a Colombian town employs discipline and speakers.

To remain virus-free, a Colombian town employs discipline and speakers.

 

When customers walk into Nelson Avila’s hardware store, he asks them to put on a mask and wash their hands. Before placing the bills and coins in the till, he sprays them with alcohol.

Avila’s shop is in Campohermoso, a 3,000-person town in Boyaca state in central Colombia with no confirmed cases of the coronavirus. According to the Health Ministry, Campohermoso county, which includes the town as well as surrounding farms and villages, is one of only two COVID-19-free counties in the world. There are over 1,100 counties in Colombia.

As he disinfects a wad of wrinkled Colombian pesos, Avila, 49, says, “Those bills will bear the virus.” “They move from hand to hand, but we have to keep an eye on them.”

Officials and residents believe the town has been able to keep the virus at bay due to residents’ orderly actions and ongoing programs encouraging people to maintain social distance and wear masks.

The town’s remote location, surrounded by mountains and away from major highways, has also aided in its coronavirus-free status. It is laid out in a tidy grid with just seven streets and six avenues. It is located 3300 feet (about 1,000 meters) above sea level, at the bottom of a green valley.

“Campohermosos has a low population density and no interaction with large cities,” according to Jairo Mauricio Santoyo, the state’s health minister.

Given that Colombia, which has a population of about 50 million people, has registered more than 2.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases, many consider the lack of infections here a minor miracle.

According to the town’s mayor, Jaime Rodrguez, violence between paramilitary forces and leftist rebels impacted Campohermoso in the first decade of this century. The coffee-growing region has been peaceful for more than a decade, but outsiders seldom visit.

Communication, according to Rodrguez, has been critical in holding the pandemic away from Campohermoso. Three times a day, messages about the virus and how to avoid it are broadcast on speakers atop the town’s lampposts.

Regular shows on prevention are also broadcast on the local radio station. The mayor’s office distributed 1,000 radios to farmers in rural Campohermoso to ensure that everyone received the post.

Rodrguez said, “The whole town has come together.” “The police, the health center, church members, and the mayor’s office all appear on the radio station to discuss the virus.”

Rodrguez said his message to the citizens was straightforward: “It is up to each family to put a stop to it.”

He’s also tried to set an example for others. The mayor claims he became ill on a recent trip to Bogota, where he was diagnosed with the virus. He didn’t go back to Campohermoso until he had a negative result.

“We quarantined 60 families in town because they had some symptoms,” Rodrguez said. “However, they’ve all screened negative.”

In Campohermoso, businesses are now open, but only mask-wearing customers are permitted. Visitors from other parts of the world are not prohibited from visiting, but those who wish to stay have been asked to quarantine in a relative’s home and receive regular calls from the local nurse.

The only school in Campohermoso is operating at half capacity. Students are split into shifts and go to school every other day.

The local priest has also gotten involved in prevention efforts in the predominantly Roman Catholic area.

“We pray to Saint Roch, our patron saint and protector of the sick,” says Father Camilo Monroy, who has also gone on the radio to discuss ways to stop the virus from spreading.

San Juanito, which is also situated in a remote valley in the Andes mountains, is the only other town in Colombia that is said to be free of the coronavirus.

Officials are concerned about the two cases because the virus has spread to Amazon jungle villages only accessible by boat or small plane.

So far, Campohermoso has vaccinated 80 people, the majority of whom are seniors over the age of 80.

The county, which is free of the coronavirus, is now waiting for more shots from Colombia’s central government.

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