Puerto Rico cannot backtrack on implementing health measures that since March have become a shield to fight the accelerated spread of COVID-19 and which proved to be better than in other countries with its effectiveness linked to early management by the government, as well as to the firm collaboration of most of the people.
Given the recent surge in cases, an unbalanced response by authorities may reverse the relative stability that the network of hospitals and health services in Puerto Rico has been reflecting for months, particularly when thousands of visitors arrive from cities in the United States where the pandemic is out of control.
A consistent increase in infections also implies increased risks for the elderly, who make up 26.7 percent of our population. Yesterday the Department of Health recorded 2,071 confirmed cases, 6,514 probable cases, and 155 deaths which included the first death of a person in a long-term care facility for the elderly.
Given this scenario, to avoid outbreaks, like those in some towns where cases were linked to the arrival of visitors from the United States, the government must advance the measures contemplated to address the growing flow of travelers at the international airport and adjust key logistical aspects for their implementation.
The new rules for travelers coming from the United States would come into effect on July 15, but the arrival of visitors has already reached more than 5,000 people per day. Today people are entering Puerto Rico without submitting detailed records for potential contact tracing and no evidence of medical tests has to be submitted to the authorities.
Representatives of the tourism industry have expressed concerns because it has not been possible to access the online form announced by the government as a key tool for preventive visitors monitoring. Meanwhile, doubts about the legal scope of the new rules subject to the submission of a negative molecular test result remain. A traveler who does not comply with this requirement would have to remain in quarantine for 14 days until he or she is tested on the island and could only take on activities without further restrictions if he or she does not test positive, according to the governmentÂ´s announcement.
These rules are part of the executive order to be implemented starting July 15. By then, some regulations could become academic in the face of the growing number of visitors whose uniform tracing becomes uphill. These measures would have been designed omitting some recommendations by the Medical Task Force whose work was recognized at the beginning of the pandemic.
However, as the reopening stages for social and economic activities advance, with a reduced curfew, some citizens no longer wear masks or forget to follow other essential prevention measures. Those practices became evident this weekend when large groups gathered on the beaches without the recommended protections. Concerns about the use of masks appear during the Father's Day holiday weekend, and medical sources associate the recent surge in cases with the relaxation of health measures.
Last weekend, even the governor did not wear the mask during the opening of her primary campaign committee at certain moments. And some participants to the event forgot to keep physical distance and other important protection measures amid a pandemic.
The Health Secretary, meanwhile, said that group events on beaches and at parties with people without masks and without keeping physical distancing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 represent "a lack of social responsibility".
All this calls to urgently strengthen our measures against the pandemic by adjusting and complying with clear rules under our constitutional framework, while also strengthening a model that will discourage risky behaviors amid a pandemic in which Puerto Rico cannot afford another setback that will hit our slow economic recovery.