Neglect and abandonment cannot be the government's response to older adults in Puerto Rico amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, at the time when this population is confirmed to have the highest death rate from the virus, as reflected in statistics from dozens of countries.
The Puerto Rican government must speed up the antibodies testing of about 30,000 older adults in care facilities. It should also speed up efforts for elderly people living alone in rural areas or isolated communities to be tested and treated immediately in case of positive results. The organized collaboration of municipalities and non-profit organizations in this task is a wise measure.
Only 22 of 952 care centers on the island had performed COVID-19 tests, according to figures released Monday. The government reported that there are 50,000 tests reserved for that population, but recent statistics reflect that only 2.4 percent have been administered. It is imperative to improve collaboration in efforts between the Health and Family Affairs departments, as well as with the National Guard, to implement initiatives to protect our older adults.
Meanwhile, the government has delayed the disbursement of the economic relief approved by federal authorities on March 27 for pensioners. It won't be until June that the State will distribute the first payments of $1,200 that Congress approved to Social Security beneficiaries, as part of the $2.2 billion assistance package to Puerto Rico through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES).
Older adults are also exposed to other difficulties like rising prices in groceries, medicines, and products to prevent the spread of the virus. The situation is especially critical for those with a monthly income so low that it is not enough to cover their basic needs.
It is the government's responsibility to expedite the process between the federal Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department to disburse the aid that is crucial to protecting the health and quality of life of thousands of older adults. There are multiple justifications for taking action in this regard, but the basic ones are dictated by a sense of urgency and a commitment to treating the most vulnerable with dignity, they cannot get caught up in bureaucratic tangles.
Of the 124 deaths caused by the COVID-19 in Puerto Rico as of May 18, 74 percent of the cases of people 65 and over. Mobilizing personnel to perform tests to detect the virus was conditioned on requests from care providers. This public policy is a stumbling block in the struggle to identify and control infections.
Puerto Rico needs efficient action. It is urgent to establish agile and systemic mechanisms to promptly administer the tests in the 952 adult care centers. The application of appropriate protocols is essential, and positive cases, if any, should be isolated or referred to hospitals for treatment.
The World Health Organization indicated that half of the deaths from COVID-19 in Europe have occurred in nursing homes. The Kaiser Foundation noted that, in 23 U.S. states, 10,000 deaths from the virus were documented in senior citizen facilities as of April 23.
Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico, the government's response seems to ignore one of the great lessons learned from another major emergency on the island: after Hurricane María, thousands of older adults were left without proper access to food, medicine or treatments such as dialysis, and many died. The government deficiencies that multiplied the human losses after the cyclone disaster cannot be repeated with the pandemic.