Monday, October 26, 2020

Dramatic economic reopening after 88-day lockdown

By on June 11, 2020

Gov. Wanda Vázquez (Courtesy)

SAN JUAN — In a press conference at one of the main movie theaters in the San Juan metropolitan area, Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced announced the lifting of the island’s lockdown and the reopening of practically all businesses and services to the public, leaving the responsibility to continue with the safety measures to avoid the spread of COVID-19 up to citizens and the private sector.

The determination was made taking into account the low need to date for health services for infected patients and with a coronavirus fatality rate of 3% to 4%.

The recommendations of the scientists and doctors who make up the medical task force created to advise the governor during the pandemic were not considered. Vázquez Garced indicated that after the economic opening, the function of the task force was modified to monitor the disease indicators.

Thus, the governor said that businesses of all kinds such as gyms, bars, restaurants, movie theaters and spas, as well as beaches, can open starting June 16, while the use of masks and physical distancing remains compulsory.

“If we forget those lessons learned and if there are spikes in cases, hospitalizations, intensive [care units] or use of ventilators or, in the worst case, of deaths, I will have no option to restore the (previous) curfews,” the governor said.

The new guidelines will take effect June 16 and run through July 1.

The governor stressed that if after the next 15 days there is no increase in COVID-19 cases, she will determine whether to open all sectors that are still subject to restrictions.

Health Secretary Lorenzo González assumed a more conservative position, and although he supported the governor’s decision, he maintained that “the responsibility lies with the companies and the population so that in two weeks we can move to phase 4.”

“It is important not to let our guard down, so that the achievement of phase 3 leads us to phase 4,” González emphasized.

Among the sectors that will not open but will begin to prepare for the reopening is external tourism, which according to Vázquez Garced could possibly resume July 15.

Tourism Co. Director Carla Campos stated that the sector will be one of those that will be continuously visited and inspected to ensure the required safety and health standards are met.

“We have a month to prepare to receive tourists from abroad,” Campos said when presenting the promotion that will be run, “Check in por tu Isla.”

The campaign emphasizes that visitors in Puerto Rico will have a safe stay, in which the priority will be their health and sanitary measures.

The Health Secretary indicated that screening measures are being expanded at the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in Isla Verde, and will begin to introduce them at the Aguadilla and Ponce airports.

JetBlue’s terminal “will open and the IDNow machines and serological testing, the body scan, will be moved there,” González said, adding that Sara Alert, a monitoring tool that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uses to communicate with travelers, will also be used.

“Puerto Rico has demonstrated discipline to protect itself. We are going to open in a gradual and prudent way. But it is important that we tell the world when we are going to be open to external tourism because Puerto Rico competes with many markets, most of which open starting July 1,” the governor said.

“No Puerto Rican should have doubts about the information that is being given,” Vázquez Garced stressed.

Measures announced

  • Starting June 16, restaurants will be able to operate until 10 p.m. and dining rooms can remain open for diners, as long as their operation remains below 50 percent of the maximum occupancy defined by the building code in force in Puerto Rico (PR Building Code 2018). The occupation of these is managed through reservations, so that the number of diners at one time can be controlled.
  • Outdoor spaces may open, as long as they comply with social distancing measures, the authorization of the Department of Health and the COVID-19 guidelines of the CDC and the Puerto Rico Occupational Safety and Health Administration (PR OSHA).
  • In outdoor recreational and sports activities, individual sports and recreational training will be allowed to resume partially until 10 p.m. The limited use of beaches, reserves, golf courses, parks, courts and gyms will be allowed, subject to the guidelines and restrictions established by the government of Puerto Rico, the secretary of the Sports and Recreation Department, or the municipality where the facility is located.
  • The opening of beaches and spas is authorized, but the grouping of people is not allowed without precautionary measures and social distancing. Beach chairs and coolers are allowed.
  • Gyms are allowed to open in compliance with CDC, Department of Health, and PR-OSHA guidelines, including the 6-foot separation parameter, mandatory use of a mask, frequent hand washing and the protocols established for COVID-19. They must not exceed 50 percent of the capacity established in the building code.
  • Shopping centers may open. The occupancy of indoor malls was changed to hold one person for every 75 square feet.
  • Advertising agencies may operate with an occupation that does not exceed 50 percent of the capacity established in the current building code. They will be able to operate during the hours allowed in the curfew, by appointment and in strict compliance with the precautionary measures regarding the use of masks, avoiding groups of people and complying with social distancing.
  • Theaters, promoting the sale of tickets electronically, were added to the list of businesses that can reopen, along with drive-ins.
  • Spas and beauty salons were included to exempt businesses that may operate from Monday to Sunday during the hours allowed in the curfew, by appointment and at reduced volumes, with one customer for each service provider.
  • Museums may operate with the same restriction that the sale of tickets is online with the occupancy limit capped at 50 percent of the capacity established in the current building code.
  • Farmers markets will be able to run, as long as they comply with precautionary measures and social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • Day care centers may open June 16 exclusively to train and prepare employees. Starting July 1, they may operate from Monday to Sunday, during the hours allowed by the curfew and in compliance with CDC, Department of Health and PR-OSHA guidelines, including distancing, the use of a mask, frequent hand washing and daily disinfection of the establishment.
  • Schools will be able to open to prepare them, as well as university campuses, for the next semester. The activation of the necessary personnel is allowed to prepare the facilities in compliance with the guidelines of the CDC, the Department of Health and PR-OSHA.
  • Telecommunications companies can offer services from Monday to Sunday during the hours allowed by the curfew, complying with the strictest health, safety and hygiene measures, and establishing the necessary controls to achieve social distancing, establishing precautionary measures and avoiding the spread of the virus.
  • The opening of adventure attractions is allowed, as long as they do not exceed the maximum occupation equivalent to 50 percent of the capacity established by the building code. Likewise, the use of common areas in lodgings will be allowed, as long as they do not exceed 50 percent of their occupancy capacity.
  • As of June 16, the use of open spaces or public and private parking lots is authorized for drive-in-like events, film screenings, graduations, concerts and previously recorded presentations.
  • Beginning July 15, the gradual opening of venues for events and concerts will be authorized, complying with CDC, Department of Health and PR-OSHA guidelines.
  • Any church, temple, mosque and/or synagogue may conduct in-person services within the hours allowed in the curfew from Monday to Sunday.
  • Public employees: All trust employees must report to their workplaces June 16. Each agency head must maintain all the safety, health and infection control measures established in the COVID-19 Risk Management and Exposure Control Plan.
  • In the healthcare area, therapy centers are authorized, provided that social distancing and precautionary measures are followed.
  • Laundromats, or cleaners, may open to the general public, strictly complying with the precautionary measures of using of masks, frequent hand washing and respecting social distancing; for this, they must ensure that the maximum occupancy equivalent to 50 percent of the established capacity is not exceeded.

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