As the new strain of coronavirus advances, each citizen must be responsible for protecting his or her health, that of his or her family and his or her entire community. The main preventive measure is social distancing.

The experience of countries with a significant number of cases of COVID-19 where the spread has been substantially reduced is linked, among other factors, to citizens' receptivity to isolation. Moving most essential activities into homes and intensifying hygiene measures will have a greater impact on the strategy to fight the virus.

Governor Wanda Vazquez's announcement aiming to promote social distancing and seeking to limit massive activities is a sensible decision that requires support in these extraordinary circumstances. Protecting life, one's life and that of others is everyone's central goal.

Overcoming the pandemic requires a responsible and common-sense response. That is why a curfew is in effect from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. and will last until March 30. It is also appropriate to limit commercial activity to particularly essential services and to order the full closure of activities that lead to the gathering of people in one place.

The fact that, during the weekend, social activities concentrating lots of people continued was a concern. There were also very crowded artistic and recreational events. However, due to this serious health risk, such activities must cease temporarily.

Over the past few weeks, the island has lagged in terms of accurate responses in the prevention phase. It is time to properly adjust health initiatives to avoid extreme crisis situations such as the one reported in Italy, where cases of COVID-19 grew out of control.

Two Italian citizens who arrived in San Juan on a cruise ship became the first patients with a confirmed diagnosis of the aggressive strain of coronavirus on the island. And a passenger on the same ship died from the disease upon arrival in the Cayman Islands. Authorities confirmed other patients with COVID-19 on the island, but the results of tests on other suspicious cases are still pending.

Following the challenges of the 2017 hurricanes and the January earthquakes, among other circumstances that have forced adjustments in the collective behavior of the island, the moment demands changes that cannot be postponed, now more than ever we are called to demonstrate our civic responsibility. These efforts imply s solidarity, charity, and generosity.

Social distancing will make it possible to protect the elderly above all, who according to health authorities are the most at-risk group for the new virus. In Puerto Rico, they represent 20 percent of the population. People with respiratory or other conditions that can affect the natural defense system are also in the risk group. Children, young people, and other adults may carry the virus without suffering noticeable or severe symptoms.

Faced with a health system with proven deficiencies, aggravated by budgetary cuts and a significant reduction in doctors, nurses and other health professionals in both the public and private sectors, people must strictly follow all prevention measures requested by health authorities.

It is also imperative that the government expedites the steps to supply the necessary COVID-19 tests and to have each result to immediately begin treatments each time a new case is confirmed while activating additional protocols with family members or other people close to the infected person.

The government of Puerto Rico has to respond clearly to this great health challenge. This includes strengthening education and guidance to minimize risks. There is an urgent need for clear and strong guidelines from officials in charge of the special and dynamic operation that this situation demands.

In this crucial moment, every act of solidarity counts. The one that should unite us the most is respect for life, with prudence as the great defense in the face of this global challenge.

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