Construction, COVID-19

The task force devised by Gov. Wanda Vázquez to advise her administration on economic affairs throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic released a series of recommendations on how to reopen Puerto Rico’s economy, as well as a guidance of best practices for companies.

These standards, revealed over the weekend, propose a gradual restoration divided into three phases, with each of these encompassing select sectors of the island’s economy. Each phase would have two weeks between them to ensure that companies are taking the appropriate mitigation risks while safeguarding the population throughout the peak of infection.

“As more sectors continue to open, we can measure what has been the increase, if any, in contagion. Depending on how the increases have continued, that will dictate whether we can move to a subsequent phase or whether we have to regress,” said Emilio Colón Zavala, leader of the economic task force.

The process would begin after May 3, which is expected to be the last effective date of the government emergency measures that have kept Puerto Rico under lockdown since March 15.

“We are trying to balance the risk of increased contagion based on metrics that we can easily measure with the need to open up the economy after seven weeks,” Colón Zavala told THE WEEKLY JOURNAL.

Mirroring the health counterpart’s suggestions, the economic task force suggested prioritizing during Phase 1 manufacturing and its sub-sectors, such as biosciences and aerospace, as well as construction and all their respective supply chains. In an index compiled by the task force, construction, mining, and information were identified as the sectors with the lowest risk of contagion.

If the first phase goes down smoothly, Phase 2 would launch the reinstatement of financial activities and their supply chains. This includes professional and business services such as firms and offices currently not exempt from the executive order that mandates the quarantine.

According to the economic task force’s final draft, more than 300,000 people should be back at work by the end of Phase 2, provided that these businesses adopt guidelines to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Phase 3 would center on the vast majority of non-essential services, excluding educational services, which are deemed as posing the highest risk of contagion, followed by health and social services. The businesses that are not included in Phase 3 would thus reopen subsequently as the coronavirus threat is contained. These would be, for example, movie theaters, gyms, beauty salons, and others.

Despite these efforts, Colón Zavala affirmed that the economic plan does not intend to lift the curfew that has been in place since the first executive order was enacted, keeping residents indoors from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m.

“[The curfew] would not be removed at first. Maybe a change could be made if the governor deems it fitting,” he said.

Guidelines for Businesses

Before they can open, businesses must submit documentation on social distancing measures to be enforced in the workplace and what other measures will be taken to diminish risk. To achieve these means, the economic task force announced re-activation guidelines for the private sector.

The 37-page document contains recommendations and descriptions of mandatory safety and health standards but is not in itself a regulation, nor does it create new legal obligations.

Among other principles, the re-activation plan contends that the company’s highest-ranking official based in Puerto Rico must ensure the mechanisms and protocols to maintain a list of the all the active workforce and their working schedule, that all employees are properly trained in the company’s COVID-19 mitigation strategy, that the company is following guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other relevant entities, and to submit a COVID-19 Self-Certification Notification to the P.R. Department of Labor and the P.R. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The guidelines have not been released to the public at the time of this writing but, reportedly, are expected to be made available through the Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC by its Spanish acronym).

The Weekly Journal reporter Maricarmen Rivera Sánchez contributed to this story.

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