Coronavirus from México: To Stay or Go and The Curious Case of Do Nothing by the Government

When I left for México in December, Coronavirus wasn’t a thing.

I took a news break for awhile and went about my day only vaguely aware of what was brewing in China. A few weeks ago, a curious increase in conversation and posts about COVID-19 started to populate my Facebook feed.

So the news sucked me back in. Whoa, what a wild time we’re living in.



While China was on lock-down, freely moving travelers (for business, commerce, personal, and otherwise) precipitated a long tentacular spreading of the virus around the world.

I observed from afar as the first few cases made their way into Boston, where I’m from. The send off was a Biogen leadership conference of about 175 international managers. Yes, there were attendees from Italy, which was at the early stages of infection. The conference ran from Feb. 26-27, and the result was 97 cases directly linked to Biogen, out of the 300+ confirmed in Massachusetts today. From 0 to 300 in about two and a half weeks.

Ever since the numbers have risen across the state, the region, the country, and the globe.



Before moving to Guanajuato, a university city where I’m currently based, I researched whether students were returning there from China. In early February, 18 students came home from study abroad, though none of them had been in the city of Wuhan. Zero cases ended up positive, so I went from Querétaro to GTO a few weeks later.

In the meantime, countries the world over enacted various forms of preventative, and catch up, measures. According to Wikipedia, “245,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in over 170 countries and territories, resulting in more than 10,000 deaths and 87,000 recoveries.” 

Meanwhile, México has largely done nothing.

México is in the early stages of infection, going from three cases when I started checking the numbers daily, to 118 confirmed cases, and the first death, as of this writing. They are expecting to move into the community transmission phase within one to two weeks, according to the Deputy Health Minister, Hugo López-Gatell.

The trajectory of confirmed cases since Feb. 24. Source


As the number of confirmed has jumped upwards, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), México’s populist leftwing President, has been gallivanting around the country to fundraise, raise spirits, and kiss babies.

He’s largely downplayed the severity of the virus, saying things like, “You have to hug, nothing is going to happen,” and “It’s a global issue but when it comes to Mexico I don’t feel like we’ll have big problems. That’s my prognosis.” He’s even claiming it’s exaggerated yellow journalism produced by biased media outlets out to get him.

Last weekend, 50,000+ people attended Vive Latino in Mexico City, and the attitude of concert-goers was similarly lax according to an NBC New York article:

Alan Miranda, who was making his first visit to Vive Latino and especially wanted to see The Warning, said he felt many people are overreacting to the potential danger of contagion at large gatherings. 

“Because I consider it is more a collective hysteria than any other thing. In Mexico we have a culture of a little bit more of hygiene that helps us to limit this kind of transmissions,” he said. 

From what I’ve seen, and people I’ve spoken with, their attitude has been comparably casual. Until this past week anyways.

The streets have been unusually quiet. At first I thought it was the crowd dispersal post-Rally Mexico (an international rally car race through the streets and mountains around the city, and which assuredly increased the odds of transmission). Yet, a few days on and it’s the quietist I’ve seen the place since arriving.

Speaking with a barista at a cafe yesterday, I asked about the downturn. She told me there were fears, people were staying home, and the shops downtown might close up as early as next week.

Almost empty at the Plaza de La Paz, one of the popular tourist areas in the city. Photo by the author


Event cancellations have been on the rise of late. The Guadalajara Internatioal Film Festival, originally planned for March 20-27, was halted, school vacations were moved up and extended, and some businesses are taking their own precautions by closing or letting employees work from home. 

Hell, Uber has been more proactive than the government. They suspended 242 user and driver accounts who had contact with an identified carrier of the virus. Back in EARLY FEBRUARY! This was before there were any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, showing the forward thinking possible.

Still, no real official word on what to do from the President. So far, States have been the ones to take the mantle for delivering a response.

Luckily, México is known to have a strong healthcare system compared to most of Latin America. They have some of the best medical schools in the region, well-trained epidemiologists, and a basic public healthcare system for all. The population is also quite young, with just 7% over the age 65 (compared to almost 16% in the U.S.).

Chart comparing the growth of confirmed cases by day, between México, Spain, and Italy. Source


With that said, Mexico has just 1.3 hospital beds per 1,000 residents, half of what Italy has. According to a Forbes article, “The main public hospital network, IMSS, has just 1,867 [intensive care] beds and 2,565 ventilators available to attend to patients requiring hospitalization during the outbreak.” The number can reach up to 3,000 including ISSSTE, Pemex, the army and the navy.

Simply, the capacity is not enough in light of the government’s own projections

Ruy López Ridaura, director of the National Center for Disease Prevention and Control Programs, said Tuesday that 0.2% of Mexico’s population, or more than 250,000 people, could catch COVID-19 if there is a widespread outbreak.

Most will have only mild symptoms but more than 24,500 people would likely require hospitalization and just over 10,500 could need intensive care, he said.

Further, most of the hospitals are in urban centers, while much of population is widely dispersed, poorer, and far from the resources they’ll need. States like Oaxaca, Tabasco, Chiapas, and Guerrero may be at a higher risk than others. 

You might ask, why the chilled out attitude from the government?

One theory is it’s the economy, stupid. Mexico is heavily reliant on tourism dollars, and they are already facing flat growth. Last time they shut the economy down for a virus, the 2009 swine flu, the economic pizza pie contracted by 5%.

Mamma mia, that’s a lot of dough!

I can see this on the day-to-day. Last week, I noticed the cost of my morning coffee has been going down steadily. When I first arrived, the Peso was converting at around 18 to the dollar. Today, it’s about 24. Good for me, bad for the economy. 

AMLO even said this all himself:

“Close the airport, shut down everything, paralyze the economy. No.

Oof.

It’s a train wreck you see coming, and you can’t stop it,” says Tony Payan, a Mexico scholar at the Baker Institute at Rice University.



So what am I going to do? 

Seems like the writing is on the walls. And with the closing of borders, I most likely need to leave now or stay for 2+ months. Yet I’m still uncertain.

Stay here and wait it out? At this point, I’m probably more likely to encounter the virus by traveling, and I have a nice little one bedroom apartment perfect for self-isolating. I’m not a major health risk to be a drain on the system, but…

Head home? In a worst case scenario–a shit hits the fan situation–the U.S. is probably the safer bet.

The journo in me thinks, “this could be interesting.” My head says, “don’t be an idiot (like those featherbrained Spring Breakers).” There’s no real reason to stay after all.

Tick tick, the sand is falling.

Time is running out to take action, for all of us in this country. I don’t envy AMLO’s position, but I do wish I had his trump card to stay safe no matter what: His magical protective shield.

Feature photo of “Chinese Coronavirus Piñatas in Tijuana.” Source

Cyrus Gear: On Creating the First Crash Pads in Mexico

And providing a soft landing for the exploding bouldering scene


Bouldering in Mexico has taken off over the last decade, in part because of the growth of accessibility of the sport. Gyms like Casa Boulder, V+ Bouldering, and Levita, and climbing equipment brands like Cyrus Gear, helped usher in new generations by reducing the friction to getting started.

Launched in 2009, Cyrus Gear was the first bouldering-focused climbing company to find success in the country. Founder, Cirenio Israel Lopez Mendez, introduced some of the first ever, locally-made crash pads, and hasn’t looked back since. Their sprocket-styled Aztec-inspired logo is now ubiquitous with bouldering in the country.

In this interview, we chat about how Israel got started, what the scene was like in the beginning, and his first, reluctant, sale.


1) How did the idea for first making crash pads come about?

It was the quest for boulders that motivated us to produce our first crash pad. At that time there was no option for what we were looking for: [A pad that had] density, resistance, size, durability. That’s why we decided to produce the first crash pad, which was designed for personal use only. Selling them was never a thought.


2) What is your background with climbing?

I’ve been climbing for 27 years. My introduction to climbing was during my first year of junior high at the age of 13. A friend of mine invited me and introduced me to Cristian Macoco, who adopted me in the climbing world. At that time, we would go to nearby climbing zones, like Aculco, Villa Alpina, Los Remedios, among other places.

The fourth time I went, at Los Dinamos, I did my first multi-pitch. It was a route named Viiaje Mágico [5.9+ trad], and I felt immensely happy. That day we tried to use a cam for the first time… we couldn’t use it, lol.

For me, being on the wall, in the middle of the forest, in a place I couldn’t imagine… It was magical. This experience, each time I climb, it is still magical for me.

Cristian Macoco climbing in Copilco in October, 1999. Photo taken from Facebook


3) What attracted you to bouldering?

For the first many years I practiced sport climbing only, but then I met this place to the north of Mexico City called “El Bovedón.” 

That’s where my introduction to bouldering began. From there, many other friends showed me other zones to go bouldering. Everything was new for me, and it was fascinating; it was like climbing only the hardest part of a line.


4) What was the climbing scene like in Mexico, specifically for bouldering, when you decided to start making pads?

Bouldering in Mexico was barely known. Back then sport climbing was more common. Maybe it’s because there were no local brands or stores that made it easier to get the gear or to practice bouldering. At the very least, it was just not as known as it is now. The bouldering community has grown during the past few years. Now it is as popular as sport climbing. 

It’s very satisfying for me to know that there are a lot more people climbing now than ten years ago. Me and my team are very happy knowing that we contributed to this development; more people practicing bouldering is a dream come true for me.

“De camino a la montaña. sigan a @fullmint en Instagram siempre tiene buen contenido…” Photo courtesy of Cyrus Gear

5) What was the process like for making your very first pads?

At the beginning, I just really wanted a crash pad. 

That idea, the need to make the first one, started humbly. It was stuffed from recycled materials and it was not eye appealing. But when it was finished, it was the best crash pad in the world for me. Plus it worked very well!

The first sale happened when a friend of mine asked me to sell it to him. And I didn’t want to; Imagine, to sell your first creation? I couldn’t. [But eventually did.]

I made another crash pad for myself with many improvements and yet another friend of mine bought it. It was difficult because I made it for me, but [then I thought] I want to share the experience. 

Then we made another crash pad, and decided to name it “Cyrus”. The first Cyrus was sold the same way the others were [from people seeing them and asking about them]. Since then we haven’t stopped producing and improving the crash pads. It’s been over a decade now.


6) How has the climbing community changed since you first started?

The community has grown a lot from then to now, and it is easier to have the tools to practice the sport.

This community is still full of people who love outdoors, who seek self-realization in contact with the rock, [and this is what] takes us to the forests, mountains, deserts, canyons and other places surrounded by nature.

Over the years, I have been able to be in touch with climbing, but now it has become more accessible thanks to the creation of gyms, the development of new areas and the [further development of] areas that already existed too. [I think] the climbing community in Mexico will continue growing and this will not stop.

“La tribu sigue creciendo, tenemos imágenes de la banda blokando en el sur del país, conquistando esos cenotes en Cancún.” Photo courtesy of Cyrus Gear


7) How might climbing in Mexico be different if Cyrus Gear was never formed?

I don’t know, since we all influence everyone; all actions, words, experiences, creations, etc. Each and every human being has some kind of result on the unknown future.

What I can tell you is that the work team at Cyrus is looking for the tools to be able to climb with quality products and make it accessible to everyone who wants to climb. What began with the dream of being able to make our own material and tools continues growing. 

Now with social media, it makes it easier to everyone who has the same dream: Just contact me and I can share the experience of a climbing line or a boulder to help them [get the beta they need], and of course, to provide them with quality and accessible products. For that, they can check out our website: cyrusgear.com.

Now the new dream is being part of the community and helping directly fulfill the needs of climbing in Mexico, and to contribute as much as possible for this sport.



You can check out all of Cyrus Gear’s products, from quickdraws to crash pads to chalk bags, on their website, or at climbing gyms around the country.

Feature photo courtesy of Cyrus Gear: “@sebasmaya.climb escala seguro con nuestros crash pads síganlo en Instagram tiene muy buen contenido…”