The government will wait until the end of this week to determine whether to impose new regulations to address the COVID-19 emergency, but several mayors immediately began implementing greater restrictions yesterday to control the upsurge of infections on the island.
However, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced warned yesterday that the new executive order - which she did not specify whether it would take effect before the current one expires on July 22 - will allow regulatory agencies to intervene with any business that does not comply with safety protocols. "They risk being closed down and having their licenses revoked," said the governor.
Vázquez Garced met yesterday with the Medical Task Force on COVID-19, after the upsurge of infections recorded on the island, mostly among young people between 20 and 29. She said, however, they did not discuss probable scenarios, but rather exchanged information on the current situation.
She said that by the end of this week, advisors will present their recommendations, which will be evaluated by the Health Department, and then new steps will be announced. "If at the end of the road, recommendations suggest taking more rigorous measures, unfortunately, we will have to do it," the governor said.
When asked why she didn't take immediate action, she said her decisions "have to be based on scientific and economic evidence," and insisted that if citizens were making the correct use of the masks, there wouldn´t be an upsurge in cases.
The Medical Task Force was tasked with identifying those activities they understand lead to contagion. In the past few weeks, videos and photos have spread on social networks showing crowds of people not wearing masks.
Since Friday, the Health Department has closed several shops in the municipalities of Ponce, Culebra, Barceloneta, and San Juan for not following the proper protection measures, either because of the lack of masks or protective equipment or because they failed to identify personnel infected with COVID-19.
"We are doing the same throughout the island and we will continue to do so... Yes, we are going to use data (to make decisions), because it can no longer happen that an opinion not based on evidence produces public policy, that is the reality," said Health Secretary Lorenzo González, who attended the meeting held at the Puerto Rico Cardiovascular Center at the Medical Center.
Until yesterday, the number of confirmed cases in Puerto Rico totaled 2,811 after reporting 227 new infections. Meanwhile, the number of probable infections rose to 7,199 with 94 more registered yesterday, according to information from the Health Department. Infection rates among the 20-29 age group are at 15.6 percent, in May it was 6.8 percent.
Mayors take control
In response to the upsurge in suspected and confirmed cases, several mayors issued executive orders to limit business activities.
Camuy Mayor Gabriel "Gaby" Hernández announced that until July 22, the municipality's businesses, with very few exceptions, will operate from Monday to Saturday, up to 7:00 p.m., and will remain closed on Sundays.
Businesses selling food and that provide "delivery" or "carry-out" services will be able to operate under that modality until 9:00 p.m. On Sundays, only pharmacies, gas stations and bakeries can open.
Hernández also ordered to close beaches under the jurisdiction of Camuy. "The guidance period has ended, our municipal police will be on alert and will enforce this executive order and protect all our citizens," he said.
Yauco Mayor Ángel Luis Torres ordered to cancel activities that gather 10 or more people and limited the operation of shops selling alcohol to delivery service or to-go. "Failing to comply with this order could result in the loss of the municipal patent, as well as some civil or administrative sanction," he said.
On Sunday, Torres canceled public transportation services and solid waste collection after employees who perform those tasks tested positive for COVID-19. In Yauco, there was also a family outbreak with 15 active cases.
The Health Secretary said “it was about time” mayor take control of local business activities. He added situations like the one reported on July 4 in Cabo Rojo were avoidable if there had been prior communication with authorities.
A call to act
Jaime Plá, president of the Hospital Association, explained the island's bed occupancy rate reached 52 percent, and although he acknowledged that in the past few weeks the rise has been continuous, he said it is not time to panic, but to review the action plans. "What we have to do is an exercise to review which would be the moment to make different decisions and what changes hospitals need," Plá said.
There are some 9,000 hospital beds in Puerto Rico, and although 52 percent are in use, the Health Secretary estimated that COVID-19 patients are using 150 beds.
Plá added that in the next few days, the Association will work on a study to determine how many beds were made available for COVID-19 patients and how many additional ones will be necessary.
As for ventilators, González said 25 percent of 1,200 is being used.
Governor will limit political activities
On the other hand, given concerns expressed by several health experts about political partisan events, the governor said she instructed her campaign director to avoid scheduling any event that promotes crowding for the next two weeks. "I care for the health and life of my people, and that goes beyond any personal consideration," she said.
In response to questions regarding the fact that there were people without masks during these activities, Vázquez Garced insisted that her team had masks and that she only removed it from her face when people next to her were wearing them.