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Rigor and caution for this crucial reopening stage

Next Tuesday, Puerto Rico will face its greatest test of civility since the COVID-19 pandemic emergency was declared three months ago. The same responsibility we showed to overcome hurricanes, earthquakes and weeks of social distancing will be crucial this time to take a stand and ease restrictions while avoiding contagion.

The island is entering its most challenging economic stage since March 15, and we can do so with determination, rigor, and caution. It will depend on each component of society to maintain balance between the dynamics of social, labor, and business interaction, and health measures.

These measures are necessary to dispel uncertainties that still cloud the horizon. The threat of the coronavirus remains as long as no vaccines or treatments are available. While this happens, the island has to resume the agenda to overcome a more than a decade long fiscal and economic crisis, and which recent disasters have further worsened.

The expansion of authorized activities starting next Tuesday is a necessary step. In this new phase with fewer restrictions outside at home, preventing an increase in contagion will depend even more on sharing responsibility between the government, the private sector, community organizations, and every citizen who works outside their home.

Health authorities still face the challenge of addressing deficiencies in expanding molecular testing and adjusting the contact tracing system. Scientific data is a necessary pillar of epidemiological strategies to identify any upsurge in infections. Although the spread of the coronavirus has not reached alarming levels as it happened in other countries and jurisdictions in the United States, the coronavirus has claimed 146 lives in Puerto Rico, including young adults, until last Friday.

The Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services Administration reported that the impending return to work has increased anxiety levels in the population. The PAS hotline received an average of 4,000 calls a day in one week. People who called expressed fear of losing the job if they cannot return to work and questions related to child care. In these cases, experts recommend avoiding paralyzing fear without minimizing emotions. The COVID-19 has disrupted everyone's lives and routines, so it is normal for a mixture of associated emotions to emerge. It is important to be able to express them and that family members, friends, superiors, and health professionals are open to listening in solidarity.

It is up to all of us to extend our solidarity and respect for other people's health in public places, and even at home, especially older adults and people with chronic conditions or compromised immune systems.

The private sector assures it will comply with the plans to adjust operations to the pandemic scenario, as approved by the authorities. Such efforts involved additional investments to modify the design of spaces to receive customers and to intensify hygiene measures. The public will be responsible of validating compliance with these measures.

Public caution will be key in moving towards other reopening stages, without putting health at risk. It is necessary to avoid setbacks and the personal and economic damage it would imply.

Awareness and caution are key for Puerto Rico to open up paths to recovery that have been postponed. And to reach that, we already have the experience gained from overcoming hurricanes, earthquakes, and the recent challenges of the pandemic in only three years. Today, that perseverance must persist with the firm conviction that we can defeat the virus together.