CAMPOHERMOSO, Colombia (AP) – When customers enter a hardware store, Nelson Avila asks them to wear a mask and wash their hands. He sprinkles alcohol on the banknotes and coins they give him before putting them in the ground.
The Avila store is located in Campohermosso, a town of 3,000 in the state of Boyaca, in the central mountains of Colombia, where there are no cases of coronavirus. According to the Ministry of Health, the Campohermoso region, which consists of the city, the surrounding farms, and villages, is one of only two states in the country that are free of COID-19. Colombia has more than 1,100 counties.
“Those bills can carry the virus,” said Avila, 49, as she disinfected Colombian wrinkled pesos. “They go hand in hand, so we have to be careful.”
Officials and locals say the city has been able to keep the virus away due to the disciplined behavior of its residents, with constant campaigns urging people to wear masks at social distances.
The remote location of the city, which is surrounded by mountains and remote roads, also helped him stay free of the coronavirus. It has only seven streets and six avenues, which are lined with neat networks. It is located at the bottom of the green valley, at an altitude of 3300 feet (about 1000 meters) above sea level.
“Campohermosos has a low population density, little connection to big cities,” said Jairo Mauricio Santoyo, Boyaco State Health Secretary.
Given that Colombia, with a population of about 50 million, reports more than 2.3 million cases of coronavirus, many here consider the lack of infections to be a small miracle.
During the first decade of this century, Campohermoso was affected by fighting between militant groups and left-wing rebels, says the city’s mayor, James Rodriguez. The coffee growing area has been peaceful for more than a decade, but it is rarely visited from the outside.
Rodriguez says communication is important in keeping the epidemic away from Campohermozo. Messages about the virus և its prevention are broadcast three times a day through loudspeakers placed on city lights.
The local radio station also broadcasts daily shows about prevention. To ensure that everyone received the message, the municipality distributed 1,000 radios to farmers living in rural Campohermoso.
“The whole city is united,” said Rodriguez. “The police, the health center, the church staff, the mayor’s office all go to the radio station to talk about the virus.”
Rodriguez said that his message to the townspeople is clear. “Every family will say that.”
He also tried to give an example. The mayor says he felt bad during a recent visit to Bogota, where he tested positive for the virus. He did not return to Campohermos until he passed a negative test.
“We quarantined 60 families in the city because they showed some symptoms,” Rodriguez said. “But everyone tried negatively.”
Businesses are now open in Campohermoso, allowing only masked customers. The city has not banned visitors from other parts of the country, but those who arrive and want to stay have been asked to quarantine at a relative’s home and call a local nurse every day.
Campohermoso’s only school is operating at half capacity. The students are divided into shifts, attending school every day.
Mostly in the Roman Catholic city, a local priest was also involved in prevention efforts.
“We pray to St. Roch, our patron saint, the protector of the sick,” said Father Camilo Monroe, who spoke on the radio about ways to prevent the virus from spreading.
The only other city in Colombia that is reported to be free of coronavirus is San Juanito, which is also located in the remote valley of the Andes Mountains.
Officials say the two cases are significant, as the virus has even appeared in the jungle villages of the Amazon, which can only be reached by boat or small plane.
Campohermoso has so far vaccinated 80 people, most of them over the age of 80.
The coronavirus-free region is now waiting for more staff from the Colombian central government.
Astrid Suarez reported from Bucaramanga, Colombia.