Puerto Rico Reopens Following Drop in COVID-19 Cases

Puerto Rico reopened its beaches, casinos, gyms and theaters on September 12, following a recent drop in COVID-19 cases and related death. The change was effected through an executive order issued by Governor Wanda Vazquez and remains in place through October 2, when the territory’s epidemiological situation will be reassessed.

Governor Vazquez said that there were around 3,900 fewer COVID-19 cases, compared to the previous counts during the four weeks leading up to August 22. Likewise, she cited 162 deaths recorded from August 1 – 22, compared with 88 deaths during the period from August 22 – September 10.

Social-distancing guidelines must still be adhered to, including at public beaches and nature preserves, and masks must be worn whenever visitors are not in the water. Sports activities, such as beach volleyball, and other games competitions typically held on the sand are still prohibited.

An island-wide curfew from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. is still in effect, although the previous 24-hour lockdown on Sundays will be lifted.

Bars, clubs, discos and cafes remain closed, while restaurants, malls and retail shops are allowed to open at 50-percent capacity. Museums can now also operate at 50-percent capacity, but theatres, casinos and gym facilities are currently limited to 25-percent capacity.

Reportedly, independent health experts are skeptical about the easing of restrictions, given that similar reopenings occurred in early June, which led to a spike in infection rates, and the subsequent retightening of measures in August.

Epidemiologist Roberta Lugo told AP News that such a wide-ranging relaxation of health and safety precautions was worrisome, considering that contact-tracing and monitoring systems have yet to become implemented fully, and the success of reopening largely depends upon business and individuals regulating themselves. She said that gyms, theatres and casino are considered high-risk venues and that she anticipates an increase in new cases and resulting deaths linked to their reopening.

Dr. Jose Rodriguez Orengo of the Puerto Rico Public Health Trust agreed that COVID-19 conditions on the island have improved, but, “It’s all going to depend on people’s behavior to maintain that.”

Visitors to Puerto Rico are required to complete an online Travel Declaration and provide proof of their negative results of a molecular-based COVID-19 test performed no more than 72 hours prior to departure if they wish to circumvent a 14-day self-quarantine requirement upon entry.

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