Visitors arriving at the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in Isla Verde must agree to follow quarantine procedures for two weeks if they cannot prove that they are not infected with COVID-19, as part of a new series of restrictions seeking to control the spread of the coronavirus.
And although government officials, including Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced, have insisted that people should not travel to Puerto Rico without a negative COVID-19 test result- known as molecular tests - it has not been determined whether there is a way to prevent their arrival or to ensure that they comply with quarantine procedures.
"There should be no doubt about coming to Puerto Rico. The executive order is clear. To come to Puerto Rico, you must have a negative COVID-19 test result, at least 72 hours before you travel. If you don't have it, as the Health Secretary said yesterday, don't come," Vázquez Garced insisted yesterday.
"We are going to protect our people as much as we can, according to federal regulation. It's simple, if you don't have a negative COVID-19 result, don't come. If you come and you don't have a negative COVID test result, you will be isolated for 14 days," she added.
Control of Puerto Rico's borders - which includes airports- is not in the hands of the state government, but of the federal government. Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has only authorized to concentrate all commercial flights in Isla Verde, but no date has yet been set for visitors to also start arriving at regional airports Rafael Hernández in Aguadilla and La Mercedita in Ponce.
Yesterday, the Health Department confirmed 93 new COVID cases, bringing the total number to 2,904. Meanwhile, the probable cases of people who tested positive for coronavirus antibodies increased to 7,219.
And the number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 rose to 206 yesterday, with 47 more than the day before.
Between July 6 and July 12, 44,781 visitors coming from the U.S. arrived in Puerto Rico. Almost half of those travelers (20,792) came from Florida, which yesterday recorded 132 deaths from COVID-19, the highest number in a single day.
Florida also broke the record for single-day coronavirus cases on Sunday, with 15,300 cases reported.
Both the Health Department and the National Guard said they were ready to monitor passengers with the new protocol under Executive Order 2020-052.
Controls will begin with airline assistance, which must urge visitors to complete a travel declaration through a digital platform, which was not yet available yesterday.
“The information I have is that they were working very hard to have it available today (yesterday). If it is not today (yesterday), we obviously hope it will be as soon as possible... But visitors will be requested the negative test result and if they comply with that requirement,” said Vázquez Garced.
Airlines executives have expressed concerns over the lack of clear instructions on how to implement the protocol, according to complaints received by El Nuevo Día. Despite meetings with government officials in recent weeks, until yesterday, they didn´t have enough information about the platform passengers have to use.
"We have received nothing. This is the most important part of the change. It's how the government is going to gather all the information and speed up the process for our clients," said an airline representative in a conversation with executives from Aerostar – the company administrating the Luis Muñoz Marín Airport – through a messaging app, a copy of which this newspaper could access.
Passengers' data must go through the digital platform called SARA (Situational Awareness and Response Assistant), which will be managed by the Health Department. Miriam Ramos, the epidemiologist in charge of the screening at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, said that agency officials will contact passengers every day for 14 days to learn about their health condition and verify that they comply with quarantine procedures.
If a visitor does not respond, he or she will be given a “guidance and courtesy call,” she said. If they do not respond a second time, he or she will be visited by a health investigation officer at “the location where he or she is instructed or asked in writing to follow the quarantine order,” added Ramos, who said it could be municipal police officers who also visit those passengers.
If there is no response for a third time, the case is referred to the Health Department’s Legal Affairs Office to proceed with “legal mechanisms,” Ramos said.