Six weeks after the government declared social distancing measures to stop the advance of the COVID-19 in Puerto Rico, our island faces the great question about the best way to gradually reactivate our social and economic activities currently paralyzed. Prioritizing workers' and citizens´ health is essential in this mission.
An important step in that effort is the Plan for the Staggered Reopening of Puerto Rico before the COVID-19 Pandemic, presented by the Medical Task Force advising the government on the response to the virus.
The plan is a guide for the gradual reopening of many of the economic and social activities that have been halted since 15 March. The guidelines are the result of a sector-by-sector risk analysis considering the island´s specific characteristics.
The organized reopening must apply to both the public and private sectors. Inaction by government agencies hinders the reactivation of different activities in the private sector and results in an additional merciless attack on the finances of thousands of families.
The path to recovery drew by the medical Task Force deserves serious consideration. If fully or partially adopted, the implementation of their recommendations should be constantly monitored to adjust them according to testing results and other indicators on the rise or fall in the number of infections and deaths caused by the new strain of coronavirus.
Any plan to reopen the economy must be supported by a strong and transparent health response that leaves behind the serious deficiencies that have been a major obstacle in the fight against COVID-19 on the island. It is urgent to increase testing, contact tracing, and strengthen the epidemiological surveillance system.
The reopening stages suggested by the Task Force place construction and manufacturing on the first line, with the simultaneous implementation of prevention measures and adjustments of previous operations. For these sectors, as well as for others that might reopen later, lessons from sectors that have been operating during the lockdown will be crucial. The significant number of infections among Police officers, one of them died, proves how important it is to provide workers with adequate protective gear. Meanwhile, health and safety measures, regulated access to customers, and physical distancing have generally had a positive impact on the retail food industry.
A second stage of the plan suggests reactivating real estate, finance, insurance, and entertainment activities, avoiding crowds. The last phase includes education, with traditional classroom-based education posing great challenges. At the same time, it has not been possible to promote distance education options with measures seeking to avoid delays in education for disadvantaged sectors that lack Internet connection options.
The gradual reactivation of commercial and manufacturing areas and other sectors of the economy with appropriate safety measures, and social activities with similar prevention initiatives, could mitigate the negative impact of confinement on mental health and the rise in domestic violence. On the other hand, there is another challenge: people's fear of contagion with the virus that in Puerto Rico had caused 84 deaths as of Monday.
Puerto Rico faces the mission of finding alternatives to establish "the new normality" that reverses the public and private paralysis that has increased unemployment and exacerbated extreme poverty for thousands of families.
Decisions have to bring confidence that they were taken in the best interest of Puerto Rico. A sound reopening plan is the government´s primary responsibility but shared with health authorities, business sectors, workers, in short, with every citizen.