Just hours before a new phase of economic opening comes into effect, Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez issued a new Executive Order 2020-52 to establish new rules for travelers arriving at airports in the midst of the emergency caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
However, Vázquez indicated that it is necessary to repeal Executive Order 2020-30 in order to establish new regulations regarding the entry of each domestic or international passenger to all airports in Puerto Rico.
This, after ensuring that a plan has been established to reactivate tourism with the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. (PRTC) according to the parameters established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Health Department, and the U.S. National Guard.
“We cannot let our guard down, especially with people who live in other places and are sometimes infected without knowing it. That is why we have to establish the necessary protocols to safeguard the health and life of all of us who live in Puerto Rico, as well as all those who visit us. However, we understand it pertinent to point out that, according to information provided by the CDC, there has been a considerable increase in coronavirus cases," she said.
To that end, she mentioned that the new executive order, which will take effect July 15, includes a mandatory quarantine and completing a form to be able to monitor the health status of people arriving on the island.
The governor explained that from now on it will be compulsory for all passengers to wear a mask or scarf that covers the area of the nose and mouth upon arrival in Puerto Rico and their stay during the entire period they are on the island. This will be both in the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) and the Rafael Hernández and Mercedita airports.
Likewise, she said that it will be mandatory to bring a travel declaration and a negative molecular test for COVID-19 carried out within 72 hours prior to arrival. If they do not have the test result, they will be screened at the airport to perform any test that is necessary in that process.
"Once the passenger gets off the plane, the infrared machines that have been installed by Aerostar here at the airport are going to detect if this person has a fever, or if they somehow have symptoms in that screening, to give them a serological test, which is voluntary," she said.
Even if that serological test returns a negative result, the person will not be outside the established quarantine period, which is 14 days. To be out of quarantine, the person has to undergo a molecular test in Puerto Rico.
"If in that screening that is done at the airport the person tests positive for the serological test, the molecular test will be done here, but only for those who test positive at the airport," the governor during a press conference at the SJU's JetBlue terminal in Carolina.
Vázquez warned that anyone who arrives in Puerto Rico will be considered with reasonable suspicion of having been exposed to COVID-19. If they do not bring the results of the COVID-19 screening test and if they do not agree to undergo the test on the island, they must remain quarantined for 14 days or for the duration of their stay in Puerto Rico.
However, aviation mechanics and flight crew members who will not remain in Puerto Rico for a period of 72 hours are exempt from quarantine. Other exempt individuals are activated military, federal agents, or others who are authorized by the Health Department. But in all exceptional circumstances, they must complete a corresponding travel declaration in terms of personal and contact information for proper follow-up and monitoring by the Health Department.
New App in the Works
The governor said that by July 15 an application should be available, which is being developed with Aerostar and the Health Department. Once the person decides to travel to Puerto Rico, they have two main requirements: to undergo the molecular test and fill out an information sheet that will be available electronically on the Department's website.
She added that health Secretary Lorenzo González will establish a digital and face-to-face surveillance process for travelers. For this, roughly 350 additional employees will be hired and an investment in technological infrastructure, including 200 computers and 300 cell phones, will be made.
$7.5 Million Contract
A $7.5 million contract was established with Quest for 100,000 molecular tests to be used in this effort. Moreover, the PRTC will establish communication with travel agencies and airlines for collaboration in the proper notification to passengers of the requirements to travel to Puerto Rico.
In addition, Discover Puerto Rico, the island's destination marketing organization (DMO), will integrate these new requirements into its promotional efforts abroad. A digital portal will also be established with more information and with the travel declaration, which will be published later by the concerned agencies.
Vázquez was clear when pointing out that hotels, leasing houses or Airbnb, or any other that allows the arrival of visitors to Puerto Rico for a period of time have a responsibility that these people do the molecular test before coming to the island.
"We have allowed markets to open from July 15 for people to come to Puerto Rico to visit us in terms of tourism, but hotels and these places where people can stay have a double responsibility," she said.
Warning to Business Owners
Likewise, she added that food establishments that allow customers in the premises without using masks expose themselves to being closed.
"We cannot allow a business to affect the operation of the entire restaurant sector and of different establishments that serve food and that are complying with the order, because it is not fair that some are complying and paying for those that are not complying," Vázquez stressed.
The governor said that it is everyone's responsibility "that we can maintain that curve that until now we have maintained." In this sense, she made a brief summary of the Health Department's data that has been evaluated in order to make the determination.
"In terms of the patients hospitalized for COVID-19, we have had between 77, 80, 85, 89, 105, and 104. That is the last week. Of those people, 9, 9, 12, 9, 10 and 8 were in intensive units. Despite the opening that has occurred... Puerto Ricans have complied with security protocols and we cannot lower the guard. This is very important. Puerto Rico is a destination desired by many tourists," she stressed.
Similarly, in terms of people who have died from COVID-19, Vázquez said, "we have had for several days, consecutively, people who have not died from confirmed COVID-19." For the governor, that is an indication that residents are being protected.
“We see here... how we have kept that curve flat. This is the reality. That is why Puerto Rico has distinguished itself today and we want to continue distinguishing ourselves at the state level and at the level of all the territories when we compare the results of our management of the pandemic," she said.
The governor said that she would not like to have to take drastic measures in conjunction with the Health Department, but that a person who is on the street and does not have a mask is at risk of police intervention.
"We don't want incidents. It is part of the executive order and is a violation of the executive order and is a crime that can carry up to $5,000 [in fines]. So, please, strict compliance does not cost us anything and is going to give us back our lives in case we have a situation like this," she stressed.