Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi delivered on Wednesday his first State of the Government Address, in which he discussed the government's new measures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the government's contract with LUMA Energy, and infrastructural projects, among other topics of interest. Originally slated for 5:00 p.m., the address began just before 6:00 p.m.
Speaking from the House of Representatives at the Capitol in San Juan, the governor announced that the upcoming executive order will be in effect starting this Friday, April 9, instead of Monday as previously scheduled.
He affirmed that, because of the uptick in COVID-19, the new executive order will impose more restrictions than the one currently in effect. Among the new measures, the curfew has been expanded from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.; presently, the curfew is activated from 12:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Likewise, businesses may only operate from 5:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
In addition, all activities that could lead to agglomerations will be prohibited, unless a waiver is presented. Meanwhile the local Health Department will activate a stricter tracing program in which they will monitor variants of the coronavirus, and the entity will also enforce a "corroborated" quarantine for travelers. The executive order will be formally announced tomorrow, April 8.
The governor urged citizens to protect themselves against COVID-19 through the established health protocols. "I once again seek the help of our people to protect themselves, to take care of their families and friends, and that is how we take care of each other and protect ourselves, because together we are going to defeat this pandemic," he stated.
Early on in his address, Pierluisi introduced Mildred Castro, widow of Dr. Benjamín Rodríguez Cotto, who passed away from COVID-19 after getting infected in his practice. The governor asked for a moment of silence “to honor his memory in representation of all victims." Other guests included were Iris Malavé Cruz, a nurse who has been a volunteer in the "VacuTours" organized by the Health Department and VOCES, and Wichy Cruz, a nurse from the Health Department.
Expands Vaccine Eligibility
Pierluisi announced that all residents 16 or older will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine starting next Monday.
"I am pleased to announce that, given the sustained increase in the allocation of vaccines to Puerto Rico and the capacity shown by the Department of Health, together with its providers and the National Guard, as of next Monday, April 12, all residents of Puerto Rico over 16 years of age who wants to be vaccinated can make their appointment and receive their vaccination," he said.
This decision places Puerto Rico ahead of federal efforts to get the population inoculated against the virus. Earlier this week, U.S. President Joe Biden informed that all adults will be eligible for a vaccine on April 19, one week after the local government's initiative.
According to the Puerto Rico Health Department’s online coronavirus dashboard —updated today, April 7—, 1,085,334 vaccine doses have been administered islandwide. Specifically, 692,947 individuals have received at least one dose, and 392,387 have been fully vaccinated. This data is compiled by the Puerto Rico Electronic Immunization System (PREIS).
Following last week's 'Super VacuTour' event
Of the individuals who have received one dose, 413,082 received the Pfizer vaccine, 258,362 got the Moderna shot, and 21,503 were vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson alternative. The latter only requires one shot, whereas the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines against COVID-19 require two doses.
"We are working hard to vaccinate the people and achieve herd immunity," he affirmed. He added that the federal government has reportedly praised the island's vaccination efforts, "for which we should all feel proud and grateful."
To learn more about the vaccine options, Puerto Rico’s inoculation phases, or to schedule an appointment to get the shot, visit vacunatepr.com.
Public Works to Come
Pierluisi also announced the creation of a hurricane and earthquake-resistant trauma center. "This is going to be the [administration] for works," he said, adding that all reconstruction efforts are considered critical projects.
He also assured that 3,000 homes will be impacted before the end of 2021 under the Department of Housing's Repair, Reconstruction or Relocation Program. Likewise, he guaranteed housing subsidies for 1,400 seniors, 851 affordable rental housing units, and the construction of another 5,000 low- and medium-cost housing units, and financing for people who buy their first home from 2,000 households during 2021.
Other critical initiatives include: building a hospital in Vieques; developing the projects in the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Base; extend the PR-5 road, end the PR-10 road, and convert the PR-2 road between Hatillo and Aguadilla into a highway; infrastructure projects in the Caño Martín Peña, and develop water projects, such as the Valenciano reservoir and others for communities that have had deficient services for years.
Defends LUMA Contract
Before the governor began his message, members of the Electrical Industry & Irrigation Workers Union (Utier by its Spanish acronym) and the Teachers Federation convened outside the Capitol to protest the agreement between the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and LUMA Energy. This public-private partnership would concede the utility’s energy transmission and distribution to the private entity.
Affirms that the agreement is ‘lawful and fully ratified’
Utier workers have been highly critical of this contract, claiming that it would result in rate hikes for clients and affect PREPA workers’ acquired rights. The collective has repeatedly asked for the contract to be eliminated or revised, while LUMA President & CEO Wayne Stensby argues that the document is “lawful and fully ratified,” and should not be amended.
On the contract, the governor asserted that he would condone a revision, but affirmed that he is against its cancelation, claiming that the agreement will lead to the much-needed revitalization of Puerto Rico's energy infrastructure.
Moreover, he stated —in stark contrast to the claims made by Utier— that PREPA workers will not lose their benefits or rights if transferred to LUMA's jurisdiction on the utility.
Earlier today the House Joint Resolution 88 was approved, which would delay the implementation of the contract —scheduled for this June— until January 2022. The legislative measure will be evaluated by the Senate and, if approved, would be sent to the governor for his signature.