Governor slated to announce 3-week executive order to curb coronavirus spread
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Health Secretary Lorenzo González Feliciano said Tuesday that the government's economic and medical task forces have come to an agreement on recommending that Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced issue a new Covid-19 executive order with stricter provisions, similar to those in place in May, to bring under control the continuing upward trend in local cases of the potentially deadly coronavirus.
The Health secretary said that the governor is expected to announce the new executive order on Wednesday and that the new measures should start Saturday — a day after the current executive order expires — and last for 21 days instead of the typical 15 days.
Ruling out the reimplementation of the total curfew-lockdown order in place in March and April, González said the “frame of reference” for the expected executive order is “a middle point” between executive orders 2020-038 and 2020-041 , issued on May 4 and May 21, respectively.
The medical task force recommended keeping the current restrictions in place for three more weeks, but, in addition, called for the closing of indoor shopping malls, restaurants' indoor seating, beaches, and banning indoor and outdoor mass events such as weddings , birthdays, parades and caravans, according to press reports on Wednesday that cite excerpts from the medical experts' report to the governor, which states that these measures are “imperative” to avoid another total lockdown. Another recommendation involves the suspension of elective surgeries, as long as their suspension does not threaten the patients' lives.
Economic Task Force Spokesman Emilio Colón Zavala was quoted as saying that restrictions on businesses will fail to curb spiking infections if sanctions and other compliance measures are not enforced. His group made recommendations in this regard, González said on Tuesday.
Gov. Vázquez gradually started lifting the shelter-in-place and curfew-lockdown restrictions between May and June.
“Evidently, it is not a full lockdown. The governor is studying some elements and details of the petitions that have been made, ”González said, stressing that there will not be a total closure of businesses. He did not offer details when pressed by reporters.
“The economic group brought a monitoring plan that it presented today [Tuesday],” he continued. "The parties were in agreement, there was a consensus, so that tomorrow [Wednesday] the governor will talk about the executive order that will go into effect, I believe, after Friday because the [current] order extends through Friday."
Moreover, González said "educational campaigns" will be carried out to inform "all populations of the importance of complying with the executive order." He said that task force members presented proposals for effective monitoring and compliance measures along with plans to target specific populations with education campaigns, acknowledging the variations between different groups of people.
Asked about a possible surge in cases resulting from the different primary voting and campaign activities, the Health secretary conceded that “it could have an impact,” adding that this would be evident in 14 to 21 days, in terms of the number of positive Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
González was also asked about the agreement announced last week by the governor between the commonwealth and Indianapolis-based Roche Diagnostics to give priority to Puerto Rico in the supply of reagents, the compounds used in diagnostic testing to analyze the presence of the coronavirus , which are in short supply.
Vázquez said that Roche guaranteed a supply of reagents to process tests at private laboratories for 11,000 patients a week. The pharmaceutical company also made a commitment to help in the implementation of the of a pooling technique to increase test processing capacity and resource maximization. This technique consists of combining samples from several patients and processing them as if they were a single one.
González said the agreement with Roche and private laboratories seeks to address the shortage of reagents, which has limited the testing of patients who are more likely to test positive.
“This is not a question of affordability. This is not that we don't have money, [or] that we are not using [Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security] Cares Act money, ”he said. "This has to do with the availability of resources from several pharmaceutical companies from the United States and the provisions they make for Puerto Rico."
On Tuesday, the Health Department reported 11 deaths attributed to Covid-19, while there were 633 confirmed virus cases and an additional 394 probable cases. Of the fatalities reported, 10 were confirmed. These deaths occurred in the San Juan metro area, Caguas, Ponce, Mayagüez and Arecibo.
With these reported fatalities, the death toll from the Covid-19 pandemic stood at 346.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico Police Commissioner Henry Escalera Rivera said that 11 arrests and 119 complaints have been filed for violation of Covid-19 Executive Order 2020-060 between Aug. 1 and Aug. 18.
Since the novel coronavirus emergency was declared in mid-March, police have made 977 arrests for violations to executive orders and 2,952 related complaints have been filed, Escalera said. He added that five police stations and work units have been shut down and 421 police officers put on quarantine as a prevention measure after 78 officers tested positive for Covid-19.
Moreover, House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez Núñez confirmed on Tuesday that he tested positive for Covid-19.
“Today I was notified that a person with whom I had contact in recent days had tested positive for Covid-19. I then proceeded, responsibly, to submit to a molecular test, which turned out positive, ”the lawmaker said in a statement. “As a precautionary measure, I started the isolation process and notified those people who were close to me during the past days. Currently I am fine, without any symptoms and in good spirits; taking, of course, all precautionary measures, including quarantine, among others. "