Latest updates by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about the high potential for the spread of the new strain of coronavirus (Covid-2019) must prompt Puerto Rican health authorities to take action to ensure adequate preventive measures.
It is also up to the private sector and families to implement preventive and response initiatives in the event of any suspected cases of contagion to protect the entire island in the face of a new global health risk.
CDC experts do not rule out "community transmission" of Covid-2019. They recommend "preparing for the worst" in light of the experience of countries that already have significant numbers of patients diagnosed with the virus and have recorded deaths. The United States confirmed 57 patients with the disease and the first case in Latin America was reported in Brazil.
In terms of government response, it is urgent to verify hospital facilities available for patients with suspected communicable diseases, as well as the training of staff and basic equipment necessary for these cases.
The moment also demands a thorough review of the medical protocols for intervention in case of possible suspicious cases of Covid-2019. This effort entails a prompt response at state facilities, as well as at private offices and hospitals. It is also important that both sectors ensure that their communication and interaction networks operate properly. It´s been proven that in health emergencies the flow of medical information facilitates better case management.
Before a health challenge such as that certain cities in Asia and Europe are facing, Puerto Rico should follow response experiences daily to implement those that have been most effective. An uncontrolled spread of Covid-2019 or other highly contagious diseases could affect the dynamics of work, school, and business in communities, in addition to threatening lives. The CDC suggested that governments try practical plans to deal with these situations.
In this sense, at the level of public health responses, telemedicine plays a key role. In Puerto Rico, it is necessary to examine whether the island has the technological infrastructure to prevent contagion and respond to emergencies using digital instruments.
The CDC also referred to the importance of being able to sustain businesses, government, and other operations through teleconferencing. Another issue to be considered is the implementation of flexible hours for certain workers, among other measures to make it easier for people to stay at home or in less contagious spaces.
The circumstances that the planet is experiencing with Covid-2019 are alarming: as of Tuesday, there were 80,000 people affected worldwide. Therefore, it is necessary to carefully and wisely prepare without ignoring the experience of severe outbreaks or epidemics, such as avian flu or cholera, which affected certain regions in recent decades.
In Puerto Rico, two population segments need special protection before outbreaks or epidemics. These are children and people over 60. Some of these groups have not been vaccinated against diseases such as influenza. These groups may be at high risk, especially if they are prone to develop conditions such as asthma, cancer or others that can further affect the immune system. In this sense, efforts to promote mass inoculations should be strengthened.
Proper preventive measures, with updated and tried and tested protocols and public and private collaborative interaction plans, as well as citizen collaboration, is the most powerful shield against the challenge that the new strain of coronavirus represents for the entire world. Puerto Rico must be at the forefront of efforts to face this new challenge.