Walgreens Plans to Offer Drive-Thru COVID-19 Testing

SAN JUAN – Walgreens announced plans to open COVID-19 testing locations in 49 U.S. states and Puerto Rico, as the company further expands drive-thru testing nationwide.

With this latest expansion, Walgreens will focus its efforts on improving access to testing in underserved communities, and over time will also be working with companies to provide testing to employees, to help more businesses re-open in the weeks and months ahead, it said in a release

The drugstore chain said the new testing locations will be determined “in collaboration with the Administration, federal health agencies and state and local authorities, and once all sites are fully operational, Walgreens expects to test more than 50,000 people each week..” The scale and timing of the overall testing expansion is dependent on the availability of tests and overall lab capacity

“This public-private partnership remains critical to keeping our communities healthy and enabling more Americans to return to work once they can do so safely. I’m truly grateful for our Walgreens pharmacists, who are playing a critical role in overseeing COVID-19 testing at these locations, while enabling us to serve as a much-needed and trusted point of access,” said Richard Ashworth, Walgreens president.

This latest planned expansion is being made possible through Walgreens’ partnership with LabCorp to triple Walgreens’ current testing capacity.

The new testing sites will utilize LabCorp’s COVID-19 nasal swab diagnostic test, which has been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under an emergency use authorization.

LabCorp is also offering antibody blood testing at more than 100 LabCorp at Walgreens patient service center locations. The antibody blood tests detect the presence of antibodies to the virus and can help identify individuals who have been exposed to the virus.

To date, Walgreens has opened 18 COVID-19 drive-thru testing locations across 11 states, and expects to have 23 sites open in 15 states by the end of the week. Walgreens pharmacists are overseeing individuals’ self-administration of COVID-19 tests at these locations.

Drive-thru testing is available by appointment only, and only to individuals who meet eligibility criteria established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In order to receive a test, individuals must first complete an online health assessment to determine eligibility, by visiting Walgreens.com/Covid19Testing.

Testing is available at no cost to eligible individuals who meet CDC criteria. All drive-thru testing is being conducted outside and patients are instructed to not leave their vehicles.

Reportedly, CVS will soon offer drive-thru testing at up to 1,000 locations.




FEMA: Recovery Efforts Continue with Funding Obligations for 84 Projects

428 Grants Approved in April

GUAYNABO, Puerto Rico – FEMA and the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience, or COR3, have obligated nearly $11.5 million in funds for 84 projects related to the recovery and reconstruction of Puerto Rico due to Hurricane María. These funds were obligated between April 17 and April 23.

“These funding obligations represent the work of all our local staff that are moving recovery forward on the island every day. Each project is a sign of progress that will benefit all Puerto Ricans as they rebuild their communities” said Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Alex Amparo.

The latest grants obligated are as follows:

  • Over $4.3 million for repairs to roads and bridges.
  • Nearly $3.8 million for repairs to parks and recreational facilities.
  • Over $2.6 million for repairs to public buildings and equipment.
  • Nearly $476,000 for emergency protective measures.
  • Nearly $200,000 for debris removal.
  • Over $76,000 for public utilities.
  • Over $32,000 for water control facilities.
  • Over 22,000 to municipalities and government agencies for administrative costs.
     

“Obligations for recovery work represent the commitment between FEMA, COR3 and the sub-recipients. During these two months we have seen obligations increase significantly compared to the first few months of this process after Hurricane Maria. We expect to close April with more obligations and continue to meet projections throughout the rest of the year. Despite the challenges that have arisen, communication and coordination have been key to making this possible for the benefit of each of the island’s communities,” said the Executive Director of the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency, Ottmar Chavez Piñero.

With an obligation of nearly $630,000, the José “Pito” Montes basketball court in the municipality of Canóvanas will undergo “significant repairs to this staple of the community of Barrio Palma Sola. New doors, rubber padded flooring and extensive electric work throughout the facilities are some of the improvements that will be possible with these funds,” FEMA’s press release reads.

“The impact of Hurricane Maria caused severe damage. The community, including the youth, have continuously requested that these facilities be rehabilitated. It is extremely important to the municipality that FEMA has approved funds to restore this facility, as keeping recreational areas functioning is part of the municipality’s public policy. The new structure will be stronger and more resilient to any natural phenomenon. It will include exercise, basketball and volleyball programs. An outdoor gym, cardio, calisthenics, aerobics and boot camp programs will also be added. The project is expected to be completed in approximately one year. The repair of this recreational area is for the use and enjoyment of the community of Palma Sola and at the same time, it is extremely important for the benefit of the programs that the community had established,” said the mayor of Canóvanas, Lornna Soto Villanueva.

Among the obligations for public buildings is the approval of over $25,000 for the municipality of Arroyo for repairs to its municipal recycling center. Located on El Flamboyán road, work on the center includes repairing fences and removing exterior plywood walls, roof panels and ceilings. Mitigation measures such as reinforcing walls and installing impact resistant windows are also part of the plans.

“The federal funding obligation we recently received will help us strengthen our municipality’s recycling program, which currently affects 75 percent of the Arroyo population, by recycling cardboard, plastic, newspaper, aluminum and mixed or shredded paper. In turn, the improvements that will be made to the recycling center will have a direct impact on the functionality of our landfill. I will continue to work hand in hand with the federal agencies to ensure that Arroyo is fully recovered from the damage caused by Hurricane Maria,” said the mayor of Arroyo, Eric Bachier Román.

Funding for permanent work includes projects like roads, bridges, water control, buildings and equipment, utilities and park and recreation facilities as authorized under Section 406 of the Robert T. Stafford Act. Emergency protective measures are actions taken to eliminate or lessen immediate threats either to lives, public health or safety, or significant additional damage to public or private property in a cost-effective manner. 

FEMA works with COR3 through the agency’s Public Assistance program to obligate recovery funds to private nonprofit organizations, municipalities and agencies of the Government of Puerto Rico for expenses related to hurricanes Irma and María. To date, over $6.6 billion has been approved for Puerto Rico under FEMA’s Public Assistance program.

For more information on Puerto Rico’s recovery after Hurricane María, visit fema.gov/disaster/4339 and recovery.pr. You can also follow FEMA’s and COR3’s social networks on Facebook.com/FEMAPuertoRicoFacebook.com/COR3pr and Twitter @COR3pr.




Business Group Seeks to Illustrate Effects of Halted Economy

Movement for a Healthy Economy Launches Educational Initiative

SAN JUAN – With the goal of illustrating the consequences that the measures related to the COVID-19 epidemic are having, economist Gustavo Vélez, one of the founders of Movimiento por una Economía Saludable (Movement for a Healthy Economy), is launching an educational initiative, “Economía en arroz y habichuelas” (“Economy in rice and beans”), to explain the other crucial side of the contagion’s effect, the health of the economy.

In Puerto Rico, Vélez said, 600,000 households could run out of money, while more than 270,000 private sector jobs are at risk of being lost.

Vélez, who also founded consulting firm Inteligencia Económica, said he will be sharing information on behalf of the Movement for a Healthy Economy about the new reality caused by the novel coronavirus and paint a picture of the “various impacts the island would suffer by not reactivating the economy.” He said he will be posting messages and facts “in a simple way so that everyone can understand” what economists typically explain more technically.

The educational initiative will include strategies and recommendations for small and midsize businesses to reopen successfully. “The use of technology, economic information and business strategies will be important factors in the Post-COVID-19 economy,” a press release reads.

“A large part of the population has gotten sick because of COVID-19. We have to understand that the economy has also become ill. Our economy is infected and it is essential to take care of it to guide its recovery. With this program, we intend to communicate the information so that everyone understands how it is being affected and the consequence it could have for the population. That is why we explain it in rice and beans,” Vélez said in reference to the local expression meaning in layman’s terms.

The initiative, the release explains, will present topics with “easy to understand visuals captured on the image of a package of rice and a can of beans. They emphasize that the information contains 0% ‘fake news’ and 100% content based on real data provided by Inteligencia Económica, Inc.”

Vélez maintains that not reopening the economy “could lead to the collapse of the private sector, which, in turn, would lead to the collapse of the public sector.”

In addition, the release further says, millions of dollars in federal aid, “such as the Nutrition Assistance Program (PAN), could be at risk. The reality is that the private sector is not producing and the economy is stopped. This could lead to almost 300,000 people leaving the Island. Given this, it is essential to understand that a global recession can slow down the United States economy and, therefore, drastically affect the local economy. This will evidently affect job and income security for the Puerto Rican family.”

Find “Economía en arroz y habichuelas” on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It can also found with the hashtag #EconomíaEnArrozyHabichuelas.




Recommendations for Gradually Reopening the Economy

SAN JUAN — The coronavirus task force appointed by Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez presented its recommendations to reactivate the economy, establishing parameters to be met to go through each of the three phases.

The document reportedly establishes that Puerto Rico’s healthcare system could only operate without overloading itself with a 12% risk of community-acquired infection. The document indicates that the risk of infection is currently between 6% and 8%.

“We estimate that we can maintain the same (trend) at less than 12%, if we continue with the recommended measures for a staggered opening,” the document reads.

The recommendations were developed using prediction models with the population exposed to COVID-19, using fatalities and the first case of death from community transmission of coronavirus (not from a traveler).

“These models made it possible to estimate the utilization of hospital services, intensive care unit rooms (ICUs) and necessary ventilators, and helped guide the needs of medical services to serve the number of patients with COVID-19 who would require ICU / ventilator services,” the document reads.

The experts clarify that “it is important to emphasize that the current infection risk of 6-8% is the result of the lockdown and does not represent what would happen outside the physical-social distancing created by the lockdown. Therefore, the staggered opening following the physical-social distancing measures recommended by the Medical Task Force after the lockdown are vital to maintain an operational health system capable of caring for all people who will become infected as part of the COVID-19 epidemic.”

The specific recommendations follow:

BUSINESS OR INDIVIDUAL SECTOR STRATEGIES FOR ECONOMIC REOPENING

  • The reopening process establishes a new social and work norm with an estimated duration of 18-24 months.
  • As long as there are NO effective treatments or a vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19, the new social and work norm will include physical distancing, which will have an impact on our daily life and way of carrying out economic activities.
  • During each phase of reopening, entrepreneurs, business owners, customers and the public should receive guidance on all the modifications that will have to be adopted in order to carry out economic activity while maintaining the recommendations for physical-social distancing and sanitary measures.
  • When the opening of a sector or the transition to a phase has caused a notable increase in the risk of infection or when health services are approaching the capacity limit, it will be necessary to stop or delay the reopening plan, or a new lockdown period may be required until the requirements of STAGE 2 are met again.
  • It is vital that each employer, administrator and supervisor evaluate the functions of their employees, the interaction between them, and their customers to develop and implement the measures needed to protect customers and employees based on risk, type of contact and modifiable behavior.
  • It is recommended that a government agency be designated to be responsible for evaluating the reopening plan for each type of company or business.
  • Sanitary brigades must be established in the municipalities to disinfect public areas.
  • The opening of the various economic sectors must be guided by the risk of infection and fatality for employees in that sector of economic activity.

Economic activity

The economic activities recognized as essential services (such as supermarkets, pharmacies, banks, hospital medical services, among others) will continue open following the social distancing measures and use of personal protection equipment.

Some of those protocols specify guidelines for different services that may be adaptable to different scenarios. See them at: https://COVID-19tf.rcm.upr.edu/. You can also find additional information at: https://rcm2.rcm.upr.edu/COVID-19/. Additional references from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) should be evaluated on their respective web pages.

Recommendations:

  • Maximize remote work in all industries that allow it, and the number of employees in closed spaces should be reduced, promoting alternate days and hours of face-to-face and remote work. This should include the possibility of using Saturday and Sunday shifts structured according to the norms and rules that exist or are modified in discussion with the endorsement of the Department of Labor during this emergency.
  • In the Entertainment and Recreation sector, cinemas and theaters could represent favorable conditions for the spread of the virus, so its reopening is not recommended at this time. Similarly, concerts, festivals and activities should not be encouraged until there is a vaccine, treatment or sufficient group immunity.
  • In the Accommodation and Restaurants sector, the possibility of limiting the maximum capacity of facilities to guarantee physical distance and hygiene measures should be evaluated. In the specific case of lodging, it would be recommended that communal areas (gyms, swimming pools, activity rooms, ballrooms, etc.) remain closed. The use of food delivery to the rooms is encouraged.

  • Recognizing that educational services entail greater risk than other economic sectors, school and university activities will be the last to be integrated into the reopening plan. Thus, parents will most likely have to re-enter the work environment while children and adolescents are still out of school and their extracurricular activities. Entrepreneurs and business owners should note that employees with school-age children will benefit from continuing to perform their jobs remotely, when possible.

In all cases, a daily evaluation through an interview and taking their temperature should be conducted so no employee goes to work with symptoms. Customers will be evaluated as well. If symptoms are present, the person will be asked to go into isolation and be tested.

Example submitted by a business subsector as a plan for reopening that is consistent with the recommendations to decrease the transmission of the disease.

Distancing Example # 1:

Car Rental Business:

GENERAL MEASURES

  • Only one (1) customer will be served at a time, either for rental or repair services.
  • Customers or visitors without masks will not be allowed.
  • People must ensure six feet of distance between them at all times. Indicators on the ground are ideal for promoting distance.
  • Before a customer is attended, they must disinfect or wash their hands.
  • All vehicles will be disinfected before and after each rental.

WORKING PERSONNEL

  • Personnel must wear a face mask at all times.
  • Before beginning work and periodically, employees should wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or use disinfectant gel.
  • Employees must keep 6 feet of distance between each person, inside the office or in any space.
  • The use of technological means (telephone, email, texts) for communication should be encouraged.
  • Employees must clean and disinfect their work areas upon arrival and before completing their work using the available products: disinfectants, masks, gloves or face shields.

WORK AREA

  • Only one (1) customer will be served at a time. All customers must have an appointment.
  • Customers or visitors without masks will not be allowed at any time.
  • Customers must remain in their vehicle until called and attended.
  • While their vehicle is in the shop, customers must wait in the designated area, keeping a distance of six feet between people.
  • The business must have products available for disinfection of common areas of high traffic or continuous contact and establish regular cleaning and disinfection shifts during the workday.

The complete plan (in Spanish)




Read the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security report: Public Health Principles for a Phased Reopening During COVID-19: Guidance for Governors.







Business group coalition urges gradual reopening based on accurate data

A coalition of Puerto Rico business groups called on Gov. Wanda Colón on Friday to lift the Covid-19 lockdown and reopen the island’s economy — but to do so in stages, by sector and with “clearly defined protocols” and accurate virus prevalence data.

The leaders of the three organizations in the coalition — constituted by the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce, the Southern Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce and the Western Chamber of Commerce – cautioned in a press release that allowing the reopening of businesses closed under the curfew/lockdown in place since March 15, must be done with reliable data on the spread of the Covid-19 virus disease on the island — something they contend is still largely absent.

The coalition leaders said they met with La Fortaleza Chief of Staff Antonio Pabón to discuss their suggestions to Vázquez on the best way to “restart the economy while safeguarding the health of the people,” adding that they “trust” that the governor will consider them in her plans to allow the reopening of businesses ordered shut by the curfew/lockdown measure instituted to curb the spread of the infectious and often deadly novel coronavirus. As of Friday, Covid-19 had led to the deaths of 77 people and infected more than 1,200.

“Since the start of this pandemic, we have collaborated with Gov. Vázquez Garced in multiple fronts,” Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce (PRCC) President José E. Ledesma Fuentes said in a statement, adding that the coalition groups represent almost all sectors of the local economy. “There have been many meetings with her and the chief of staff, presenting them with the recommendations that business owners from all sectors have sent us.”

Ledesma cautioned that the reopening of businesses must be done “in stages, by sector and with clearly defined protocols.” Moreover, he said, a chief concern that must be addressed before any move to restart the practically shuttered economy is that Puerto Rico “lacks reliable statistics that can give us an accurate x-ray of where we are with respect to this pandemic.”

The PRCC head said that the three business group leaders were concerned about this week’s acknowledgement by Health Department Secretary Lorenzo González that collected data on Covid-19 testing had been inaccurate. He said that any future steps must be based on “data that are not contaminated or saturated,” and stressed the importance of contact tracing.

“For contact tracing to be effective, you must have detailed knowledge of where people are and the real number of cases,” Ledesma said. “We understand that right now that statistic is not reliable. At least for the private sector it is not.”

Therefore, the business group coalition is recommending a gradually implemented plan by sector, Ledesma said.

“The statistics should be the base to open responsibly, with real data,” he said, adding that extending the lockdown into June for most of the economy “without any flexibility” is “unreasonable”

For his part, Southern Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce President Luis A. Alvarado Cintrón said the governor’s plan to allow the reopening of businesses should include “clearly defined and uniform protocols” for sanitization, personal protection equipment and social distancing, preferably between three and 10 feet.   

“This is a big concern because we are seeing that the [governor’s] economic and health task forces are working apart,” Alvarado said. “This can get out of hand and this is not what we want. Our biggest worry is in relation to the announced reopening. It has to be well-defined, in accordance with what the private sector has recommended.”   

Western Chamber of Commerce President Waleska Sánchez de Gutiérrez said the government should announce a gradual easing of the lockdown by industry, so that “everyone knows what to do.” She said, moreover, that businesses in the south and western parts of the island have been hit doubly hard because of the earthquakes earlier this year.

“This plan must show the A, B and C of the protocols to follow, clearly established, otherwise each one will interpret it their own way and we will not have a satisfactory control of the health and protection issue, as we wish,” she said, noting that this applies to clients as well as to employees in each one of the industries to be reopened.

Sánchez de Gutiérrez said that restrictions on sectors related to entertainment and recreation should not yet be lifted.

“We understand that if we were to ease restrictions on any sector, they should be service industries, due to the nature of the assistance they offer,” she said. “They can establish a well-agreed plan for clients as well as employees so that they may be secure in the activity they undertake.”




U.S. House Passes $484 Billion in Covid-19 Response Funding

SAN JUAN — The U.S. House of Representative passed the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act Thursday to provide additional relief funds during the public health crisis.

The measure will allocate more than $484 billion in federal funding to help address the unemployment that reportedly has reached Great Depression levels amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The relief package provides increased funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), emergency disaster loans and grants, hospitals, healthcare providers and Covid-19 testing.

The measure includes $310 billion for the PPP to replenish the emergency loan program and provide funding to impacted businesses. Additionally, it includes $75 billion for reimbursing hospitals and healthcare providers for Covid-19 care, treatment, and prevention. Furthermore, the bill includes $25 billion for COVID-19 testing, directing $11 billion to states, localities, territories, tribes, and tribal organizations for necessary expenses to develop, purchase, administer, process, and analyze tests. The $25 billion will also provide funding for personal protective equipment, laboratory capacity, personnel, contact tracing, and surveillance.

“We thank Congress for the swift passage of this legislation. H.R. 266 includes important provisions that will provide Puerto Rico and our Nation the necessary resources and tools to continue fighting this pandemic during this heightened time of concern for public health,” said the executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA), Jennifer Storipan.

“While this legislation provides critical funding to address some of the challenges we are currently confronting as a result of this pandemic, there still remain additional unmet needs for our state and local governments. As Congress continues to work on forthcoming packages to provide relief, we will work diligently to ensure that Puerto Rico is included and receives the needed funding to continue battling COVID-19,” she added.




Private Sector Group Presents Proposals to Overcome Economic Impact of Covid-19

SAN JUAN – The closure of businesses in Puerto Rico since March 15 has created an unprecedented impact on the Puerto Rican economy. It is vital to see in this scenario the role of the private sector, which generates 94.3% of the value of the productive activity. The government, for its part, represents 5.7% of the generation of economic activity. Thus, for every dollar the economy of Puerto Rico produces, 94 cents are made by the private sector, while the government makes 6 cents. So, six weeks after the start of the lockdown, what has happened? Private companies are not producing and, therefore, are not generating in order to make the economy viable.

This situation leads the local industry to move for an immediate economic push. Faced with this reality, the Movement for a Healthy Economy has developed a series of recommendations aimed at guiding the reopening of the economy by following the necessary protocols and safety measures.

“A two-week shutdown to prevent a collapse in the healthcare system is something that most businesses can handle. But maintaining the restrictions for more than six weeks will force the bankruptcy and failure of most businesses and jobs in Puerto Rico. The economic collapse will be devastating. The health system has ample capacity. It is time to produce,” said Federico “Friedel” Stubbe, chairman of the Prisa Group, one of the founders and spokespeople of the movement.

Federico “Friedel” Stubbe, chairman of the Prisa Group

At the moment it is estimated that 300,000 people are temporarily out of work in the private sector, which translates to 45% of employees in the private sector being affected. Of these, an estimated 170,000 have already applied for unemployment benefits. Looking at the effect in numbers, estimates from consulting firm Inteligencia Económica Inc. point out that by extending the curfew until May 3, the direct economic impact of the crisis would amount to $8.4 billion. If extended until May 31, the impact could reach $12.1 billion. The most heavily affected business sectors include: real estate, retail, manufacturing, tourism and entertainment, cars and health.

Another relevant point is the impact that the lack of federal aid that Puerto Rico receives would have on the local population, since they could be at risk in the near future. This situation would have an impact for 45% of the families that depend on some type of aid such as Medicaid, PAN and Public Housing.

The economic situation resulting from Covid-19 brings with it the following main risks: paralysis of the private sector, insolvency of households, the financial collapse of the government and the possibility that the economic depression may worsen. With this scenario in mind, the spokespeople for the Movement for a Healthy Economy have proposed a program called Protecting Health and Production with the following points:

  • We have to understand that the public and companies are smart and have learned. The markets are efficient. Both workers and customers will not go outside until they are comfortable with the solution offered to them.

  • Puerto Rican businessmen are as good as the best in the world. They have the capacity and need to develop protocols that protect the health of both the client and their workers.

  • Each industry presents its protocol that adapts to its circumstances and needs. In a free market, customers decide.

  • Government should trust and count more on the capacity of its business leaders, workers and customers. It will provide much more strength to the solution.

  • Let’s control our fears and work together, government and business to pursue a better life solution.

“The current crisis represents a general risk from which it will be difficult to get away from if comprehensive solutions and well-founded strategies are not implemented. Knowledge and participation of the private sector will be essential to complement the government’s efforts in reopening the economy. It is time to rethink how we will meet the needs of our businesses to direct effective and productive action that benefits everyone,” said group spokesperson Gustavo Vélez, Inteligencia Económica’s founder.

Economist Gustavo Vélez

“It would be a serious mistake to think again that federal funds will be the lifeline of Puerto Rico and its economy. The federal government has increased its deficit and debt to historic levels; therefore, no one can guarantee the permanence of the federal funds currently received by the Island. We must move and demonstrate to the Trump administration that we can produce like the rest of the 50 states,” the economist added.

The group calls on government leaders to trust the ability of private industry to think of innovative ideas and offer alternatives that help build a program of effective solutions to succeed, which in turn leads to building a strategy of long-term development. This strategy should be aimed at not depending so much on federal funds and looking for recurring sources of investment and production. Above all, it is of vital importance and urgent action to make possible the permanence of the 273,000 jobs of private companies and the 60,000 of the government that are at risk of being lost.

The initiative will have the support of an educational media campaign aimed at raising awareness about the relevance of reopening private industry with the proper protocols for the benefit of the financial health of the Puerto Rican family.




Two Puerto Rico Companies Create Medical Testing Booths

Redirect Expertise to Address Healthcare Worker Challenges Amid Pandemic

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico companies JERO Industrial and EQ Plastic & Designs announced the design, development and production of the HEROES series of pressurized medical and laboratory testing booths that protect health workers against exposure to Covid-19.

The companies, each with more than 15 years of experience in sales/service of industrial equipment and the manufacturing of displays, respectively, said they developed the product to “reduce the vulnerability to which medical personnel is exposed to” daily.

“We have no choice but to reinvent ourselves. Not only in order to survive and keep our 20+ employees working, but also because our first responders need to take care of our people in a secure and reliable manner. This is a product specially designed in honor of our health heroes,” said Javier Rodríguez O’Neill, president of JERO Industrial Corp.

JERO sells, distributes and provides installation and maintenance of industrial equipment in the Caribbean including machinery for pressure cleaning, diesel tanks and compressed air equipment, among other industrial and lubrication applications.

A press release points out that the medical booths took into consideration the “input/feedback of Liz M. Ortiz López, MD and other medical personnel needs and specifications for the development/design phase.”

Rodríguez partnered with his client, EQ Plastic & Designs, to complete production.

“HEROES, our line of pressurized medical/laboratory testing booths, is born due to the need and potential of our local companies to respond in a timely manner with real solutions. We don’t have to go out of Puerto Rico to look for alternatives when our industry and professionals have the knowledge, experience and desire to support our people,” added a representative of EQ Plastic & Designs, which manufactures booths and furniture in metal, PVC and other materials.

The companies are currently in the development of an additional cabin to support nurses in the triage area.

The press material includes the following about the Safe Medical Booth – HEROES Edition—”in honor of our…heroes of this emergency (medical personnel, nurses, hospital employees, lab technicians and other personnel in health institutions)—comprising four portable booth models that are available for delivery two weeks after an order is placed:

·         Safe Hst- Booth – Provide protection to the first line of defense, your medical facilities host. Excellent for sorting patients before gaining access to closed common areas, greatly reducing the spread of diseases and the contamination of closed areas. More than 8,000 BTU Closed Loop Air conditioning system with HEPA Filter Fan System for preventing Virus and Clean Air Flow Circulation in the Booth. Minimize the inconvenience of PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) wearing and taking off. Provide a safely method to supply PPE to suspicious infected patients. Operation both indoor and outdoor. Exterior control panel for pressure and temperature settings. http://safemedicalbooth.com/safe-testing-booth-es.php

·         Safe MEv – Single and Double Cabin Booth – Protect medical personnel, your most valuable asset from viruses and infections. Excellent for a safer medical evaluation process during infections outbreaks. More than 8,000 BTU Closed Loop Air conditioning system with HEPA Filter Fan System for preventing Virus and Clean Air Flow Circulation in the Booth. Top Notch Glovebox Technology engineered for medical auscultation with economical disposable hand protective bags. Minimize the inconvenience of PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) wearing and taking off. Operation both indoor and outdoor. Exterior control panel for pressure and temperature settings. http://safemedicalbooth.com/safe-medical-evaluation-single-booth-es.php and http://safemedicalbooth.com/safe-medical-evaluation-double-booth-es.php      

·         Safe-Tst Booth – Protect your laboratorian from the exposure to potential infectious pathogens during the collection of specimens. Suitable to collect upper respiratory specimen highly pathogenic. More than 8,000 BTU Closed Loop Air conditioning system with HEPA Filter Fan System for preventing Virus and Clean Air Flow Circulation in the Booth. Top Notch Glovebox Technology engineered for gloves to provide excellent protection to your hands while maintaining great dexterity. Minimize the inconvenience of PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) wearing and taking off. Operation both indoor and outdoor. Exterior control panel for pressure and temperature settings. http://safemedicalbooth.com/safe-hosting-booth-es.php

The booths start at $10,000 with discounts for orders of four or more units. The booths were designed with clean room specifications such as “positive pressure systems with up to .03 in. wg. to avoid contaminants inside the booth, and renewal of the air inside the cabin more than 20 times per hour.” The booths are also equipped with Ethernet and telephone connection to allow access to the health data.

Additional features include “an auto disinfecting system with nebulizers and an ultraviolet air purification system.” The companies assured having “the capacity to develop customized orders/products to suit the specific needs of clients in the health, supermarket, and retail industries as well as other areas that the current crisis imposes.”

The booths are developed and produced at EQ Plastics headquarters in San Juan.

“Puerto Rico not only has committed entrepreneurs with the well-being of our people in mind, but it also has the potential to adapt in order to survive and provide excellent products in the worst of the scenarios. Nobody takes care of our people like the boricuas and that is why we have not spared resources and time to develop this line of HEROES products in honor of our heroes,” the company said.

For more information, visit www.safemedicalbooth.com.




Disbursement of Cares Act’s $600 Weekly Unemployment Benefit Begins

Puerto Rico Gov, Labor Secretary Announce Availability of 4-Month Bonus

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced and the secretary of the Labor and Human Resources Department, Briseida Torres Reyes, announced in a press release that, starting Saturday, April 25, people receiving unemployment benefits will start receiving an additional $600 weekly unemployment compensation.

Under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), a provision of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (Cares Act) enacted March 27, states will administer an additional $600 weekly payment to certain eligible individuals who are receiving other benefits

Eligible individuals will receive retroactive payments back to their date of eligibility or the signing of the state agreement, whichever came later, according to the U.S. Labor Department, which previously said that “all states have executed agreements with the department as of March 28”; however, the governor’s announcement Thursday states that the supplemental benefit on the island is retroactive only to April 4.

The Cares Act specifies that FPUC benefit payments will end after payments for the last week of unemployment before July 31.

The supplemental aid payments will be sent alongside the local unemployment insurance benefits, “and thousands of people are expected to begin receiving the first payment of this supplemental aid as soon as this Saturday,” the release reads. “Retroactive benefits would begin to be received next week.”

“Our workers can be sure that we will take the necessary measures to guarantee their economic capacity while protecting the health of all, during this period of confinement. We are aware of the needs of our people; thus the commitment of this administration to make the aid available as soon as the regulations and conditions imposed at the federal level for the disbursement of these funds were fulfilled, both for Puerto Rico and for other jurisdictions,” the governor said.

Labor Secretary Briseida Torres Reyes (Screen capture of www.facebook.com/SenadoDePuertoRico)

“We have been waiting weeks for access to these funds, and the implementation of the processes required for their disbursement, since we know the needs of our workers at this time,” Torres Reyes added. “This week the funds were made available and now we will begin to send them to the beneficiaries, who will not have to fill out any additional forms and who will receive the supplementary aid along with their regular weekly unemployment benefits.”

People whose jobs have been affected by the emergency measures implemented to stop the spread of Covid-19 and have not yet made their initial unemployment claim can do so by visiting www.trabajo.pr.gov or by calling the Labor Department at 78-665-0001.




Puerto Rico Treasury: Nearly Half a Million Taxpayers Will Receive $1,200 Stimulus Check First

Treasury Secretary Francisco Parés Alicea (CyberNews)

Taxpayers Who Filed 2019 Return Will be Notified Over Weekend; Secretary Awaits U.S. Treasury Authorization

SAN JUAN – The secretary of the Department of the Treasury, Francisco Parés Alicea, said Wednesday that, this coming weekend, some 486,000 Puerto Rico residents will begin to receive an email informing them that they are eligible to automatically receive the $1,200 in federal aid, which will be deposited in their bank accounts as soon as approval of the distribution plan is received from the U.S. Treasury.

“As we complete the agreements with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Treasury on the distribution of the Economic Impact Payment, we have already identified some 486,000 taxpayers who would receive approximately $800.1 million, in all likelihood, in the coming weeks. In a first phase of the process, the Unified Internal Revenue System [SURI by its Spanish acronym], identified the citizens who filed their Income Tax Return for 2019, who are ready to receive the aid,” the official said.

He said Puerto Rico’s Treasury continues to “synchronize the different databases” to identify the taxpayers who filed their 2018 return, who will receive the funds in the department’s second disbursement phase.

The secretary explained that, during the process to identify eligible taxpayers, some were found who must register the bank account into which their direct deposit will be made. For this, they will have to register it online, in SURI.

“The process is going to be simple, I already had the opportunity to see the demo of the digital tool and we are well ahead in the technological structure. The tool will be a quick link and will not require having an account [with SURI]. Taxpayers will simply have to answer some basic questions,” Parés said.

 Regarding nonfilers and other groups, the official said an announcement would be made “in the next few days,” but that they will also have to use SURI to enter the bank account where they want the money deposited.

The official assured that final approval of the aid distribution plan is very close.
“Today, the IRS sent us a series of operational questions that were immediately answered by the Department of the Treasury. So far, they (IRS) estimate that they will send the revised Plan to the Treasury Department later this month for final approval,” he said.

The secretary said a letter was sent to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, as “requested by governor Wanda Vázquez Garced…where arguments were presented for why the IRS should pay the benefit directly to Social Security participants and veterans that do not file returns, which are the areas that remain to be determined,” according to the Puerto Rico Treasury’s release.

“The IRS continues to evaluate the operational feasibility of our proposal included in the draft Plan that we presented and that we elaborated on the letter sent to Secretary Mnuchin. There are other territories in this same situation and it is our priority that this plan required by the CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] Act be approved as soon as possible,” he stressed.

“When the federal Treasury approves the plan, we will immediately begin the disbursements, since we have the authorization of the Fiscal Oversight Board to use $400 million from the secretary’s account to advance payments and then request a refund,” Parés said.