Dispatch from Mexico: A Local’s View on Swine Flu and the Media
In March I visited Puerto Vallarta for a few days. My friends stayed at the Hotel Mercurio, a small hotel in the heart Puerto Vallarta’s old town. I stayed at a nearby condo because I wanted a kitchen, but since I exchanged a few emails with the Mercurio I wound up on their email list. Although I didn’t stay there I enjoyed their pool/bar with friends.
I received this email today from manager Paul Christ. I’m posting his correspondence below because I think it’s important to hear an alternative to the mainstream barrage of pig flu “news.” The non-stop coverage may have fallen since last week, but unfortunately the economic damage has been crushing. There are thousands of people like Paul who own businesses or rely on tourism dollars, a great percentage of it from Americans.
Whether or not you agree with the technical aspects of his note I think it’s very well worded and worth reading. He also references this biting editorial from Alternet, which provides some less heard opinions too.
In light of the current international fixation on the spread of the Type A virus, H1N1, I have decided that it is time to communicate a few facts to friends of Hotel Mercurio. We have, like all hotels and businesses in Puerto Vallarta, been hit with a rash of cancellations in the past week. New reservations are almost non-existent. The situation is dire. We are struggling to avoid layoffs. If you’ve stayed with us, you know that our employees are a family, and we are responsible for their well being. And while we understand the abundance of caution, it is also important to us that you know the real situation regarding the flu in Puerto Vallarta.
Just as the U.S. media has done with regard to border area violence, they have painted Mexico with one broad brush. It seems incredible to those of us in Mexico that the U.S. seems so oblivious to the immense size and diversity of Mexico. All the major TV media outlets depict Mexico as a uniformly dangerous, violent place, source of illegal and undesirable immigrants, and which is now “plagued by contagious disease.” The fact is, most of Mexico, including Puerto Vallarta, is peaceful, safe, and healthy. The violence is over 1,000 mile away. Puerto Vallarta has a lower crime rate than MANY U.S. cities…perhaps even yours! The nearest case of H1N1 virus is some 600 miles away.
To CNN and other 24/7 news outlets, we say this: Please check your map. Mexico is somewhat larger than Rhode Island, and Mexicans resent being depicted generally as gangsters, victims, or dying of illness. U.S. media treatment of Mexico is neither accurate nor fair.
So, here are some facts.
There have been no confirmed or even suspected cases of H1N1 flu in Puerto Vallarta. In fact, there have been no cases in the state of Jalisco (which includes Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico), where Vallarta is located. If you live in a U.S. state or city where H1N1 has been confirmed, you are more at risk of contracting the virus at your local grocery store than you are in Puerto Vallarta. But even going to your grocery store, your major risk would be an auto accident on the way… not catching a case of the Swine Flu.
The Secretary of Health for Mexico has announced that the number of cases in Mexico generally, is beginning to decline. This is in keeping with epidemiological models that predict the rise and decline of contagions based on a number of factors such as the season, general health of a population, population density, etc. Thus, it’s no surprise that this is turning out to be much less of an “event” than the U.S. media has made it out to be during the past week.
There is, to date, no scientific evidence that the behavior of this particular strain of flu is any different from normal, seasonal flu virus. It seems no more contagious, and does not seem to have a higher mortality rate than normal, seasonal flu (which may kill over 30,000 people per year, but this doesn’t make the news!).
All the aforementioned being said, the response of the Mexican government has been both rapid, and admirable. Not because there was any certainty that this could become a vast and deadly pandemic, but out of an abundance of caution. The most recent indications are that, in Mexico, the worst is over, and it wasn’t nearly the big deal that the media made it out to be. Bars and clubs that were ordered closed in Puerto Vallarta are re-opening today. Schools will be opening this week. It is time to get back to normal (because, in fact, nothing abnormal has occurred).
Most of the public does not understand the scientific community’s use of the term “pandemic.” It does not refer to the deadliness of an outbreak of illness. It means merely that the outbreak is spread across multiple countries, and is spread from human to human, thus has the potential for many cases to develop. The fact is, we have a number of pandemics of flu every flu season, but it doesn’t become the #1 item on CNN round the clock for weeks on end.
The airlines are not refunding, but are allowing re-scheduling. We feel no obligation to offer more than the airlines are offering. This is particularly the case given the utterly unfounded fears that have become rampant this past week. This situation is not YOUR fault, but it isn’t OUR fault, either. If anyone might be blamed, it seems the MEDIA is responsible here.
So, if you have vacation plans for Puerto Vallarta, we simply ask you to look beyond the hype, and come to enjoy our beaches, our friendly people, our vibrant nightlife, our endless variety of gastronomic delights, and the natural beauty of our area.
We’re here to serve you, and look forward to your visit!
Paul Crist and the entire team at Hotel Mercurio