Admitting the urgency for more tests and the need to strengthen the Health Department structures to control COVID-19, last night Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced agreed with recommendations by the economic task force to gradually reactivate business and commercial activities on the island.
This reopening, however, requires that every business in Puerto Rico develop a plan incorporating practices or guidelines adopted by occupational safety and health agencies and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
As recommended by the economic task force, Vázquez Garced determined to begin the reopening process, starting next Monday, giving companies a week to get organized.
Certain professional services that do not include crowded activities, could begin to operate the following week, as long as they prove to have adopted the required protocols and comply with a new executive order to that end.
"It is a controlled and monitored phased reopening process. Going from one phase to another will depend on health indicators," said Emilio Colón Zavala, spokesman for the economic task force, who was pleased with Vázquez Garced's decision.
"We were able to intertwine economic needs with health needs and that is the most important thing," added the engineer, explaining that the decision is only the first step of many that the group will recommend to achieve a safe reopening.
According to Zavala, as they have more data available on the course of the pandemic, the group will recommend the next reopening phase.
"The decision to reopen will always depend on health indicators," stressed Colón Zavala.
According to the report by the economic task force, which El Nuevo Día accessed, the group is placing the responsibility for assessing the risks of such an operation and developing a protocol to protect its employees, as well as notifying the authorities of cases of contagion, on the highest level of management in each company.
Which sectors will open and when?
According to Colón Zavala, the construction and manufacturing sectors, which are currently partially operating, should use the following week to prepare so that they can resume operations as of May 11.
Besides, Vázquez Garced agreed to ease restrictions in the health sector, particularly dental and optometry offices and elective procedures in hospitals.
Mortgage activities, insurances, and professional services such as lawyers, engineers, and accountants, and certain technicians will also be authorized as long as they operate by appointment, among other criteria.
Vázquez Garced stressed that the reopening process will be interrupted if there is an adverse change in the contagion curve.
According to Vázquez Garced, other economic sectors, such as retail trade, could begin to operate - with restrictions - between 18 and 25 May, provided that the medical task force recommends it and if the required protocols have been adopted.
In any case, the requirement to adopt new procedures - from purchasing masks and protective glasses to establishing how cases of contagion will be reported - will apply to all companies, said Colón Zavala.
The call for the gradual reopening of the economy comes seven weeks after the governor ordered the shutdown and a curfew that will remain in place, measures considered among the strictest in the entire United States.
The gradual reopening also coincides with the warning by Health Secretary Lorenzo González Feliciano, who said Puerto Rico will reach its contagion peak by May 8.
El Nuevo Día learned that the economic task force proposed that once the reopening begins and if there are no drastic changes in the infection curve, new activities now suspended will be authorized every two weeks. In contrast, the medical task force advising Vázquez Garced on the pandemic considers that the reopening of sectors or easing operating hours should be implemented every three weeks.
According to the economic task force´s proposal, each company will be able to resume operations, once it receives a favorable certification of its operational plan in response to the coronavirus, a matter that Vázquez Garced stressed last night.