Guidelines published for first phase of economic reopening

SAN JUAN – The secretary of the Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC by its Spanish initials), Manuel Laboy Rivera, announced on Monday the publication of the Business Reactivation Plan that includes a series of tools, developed by the Economic Task Force, for the reopening of certain economic activities, after the closure decreed as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In addition to the plan, a risk assessment template was published containing mitigation measures and the Employer Self-certification.

“These documents will be the initial tools that employers will use to determine the actions to be followed in the preparation process to protect the health of their employees and customers ahead of the start of operations. It is important that the best health conditions are guaranteed to avoid a significant increase in COVID-19 infections,” Laboy Rivera said in a statement.

He noted that as part of the process, a survey prepared by the Business Emergency Operations Center, an organization that is part of the Economic Task Force, in conjunction with the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics, was included, which will be used to collect frequent and updated data on aspects related to COVID-19 in businesses in Puerto Rico.

This data in turn will allow businesses to take all necessary measures to provide services safely, effectively and efficiently. This survey will serve as a baseline for the recommendations of the sector revival plan. The information provided by employers is considered confidential and the results will only be used to offer suggestions to the various economic sectors.

On the other hand, the secretary of the DDEC, said the Institute of Statistics of Puerto Rico (PRSI) will help in data management to guarantee the publication of accurate data that is necessary to make decisions about the reopening of other sectors or the adjustments needed in the event of an increase in coronavirus cases. The determination to resume the operation of new economic activities must be based on data that is as accurate as possible, always safeguarding everyone’s health.

PRSI Executive Director Orville Disdier said they developed a Unique ID Generator, which will collect basic and initial business information and assign each one a unique identification number, which will be used to protect company confidentiality. They also created the COVID-19 Business Survey, which will collect weekly information on the characteristics of active employees, the impact of COVID-19 on employees, the level of risk to employees and customers, and the capacity of the business to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

Both tools can be accessed at: https://estadisticas.pr/en/encuesta-covid19-negocios. The information obtained through these tools will also complement the information that the Institute already receives from the Department of Health, which is analyzed and published in the COVID-19 Indicators Platform, available at: https: //statistics.pr/en/covid-19.

For the economist Roberto Toledo, who is a member of the Economic Task Force and worked on the recommended model of the first gradual reopening, it is a fundamental effort that is the basis and guide for a successful reopening.

“The initial results in a scenario without standardized mitigation protocols, with high-risk businesses operating such as supermarkets and after three incubation windows, were encouraging. Of the 63,000 employees reported in the survey as active, we have reported 25 positive cases with COVID-19, this figure is proportional to the data provided by the Department of Health. This does not mean that we let our guard down, the key continues to be a gradual reopening tied to the integration of monitoring, tracking and mitigation tools,” he said.

The DDEC secretary said the Department of Labor and Human Resources was key in these efforts because, through the guides published by the Puerto Rico Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the tools needed to support employers to resume operations safely were established.

“In the past few months, we have guided and assisted the private sector in creating their exposure control plans for COVID-19. The new Self Certification, which employers must send by email to autocertificacionprosha@trabajo.pr.gov, contains the essential elements that an adequate plan must include, to guarantee the safety of employees in their workplaces, according to the PR OSHA guidelines,” said Labor Secretary Briseida Torres Reyes.

Those interested in obtaining these protocols and documents can access refuerzoeconomico.com. If you have questions, e-mail them to emergencia@ddec.pr.gov.




CPI Sues Demographic Registry for Third Time for Failing to Deliver Full Information on Deaths

Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo | Center for Investigative Journalism

The Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) today turned to the court with a writ for mandamus for access to information claiming the Demographic Registry has not fully delivered the database on the causes of death in Puerto Rico, as requested five weeks ago.

The lawsuit filed at the San Juan Superior Court names as defendant Wanda Llovet Díaz, director of the Puerto Rico Demographic Registry, and the Commonwealth. It responds to investigations done by the CPI into deaths on the island.

“It’s unbelievable that at a time like this, and with the urgency that people have to feel some degree of trust and certainty about how the issue of deaths from COVID-19 is being handled, the island is being failed again. The request for the complete database and death certificates is identical to the one that the CPI submitted after Hurricane María and for which, as we know, the Superior Court ordered its full disclosure in 2018,” said Carla Minet, executive director of the CPI.

“In 2009, the CPI had also filed a suit against the same official seeking the same document, and gained access to it. We urge the director of the Demographic Registry to deliver this information without omitting any fields, as soon as possible,” said Minet.

On March 23, journalist Laura Moscoso, on behalf of the CPI, began the process of requesting the data on the deceased in a letter addressed to Llovet Díaz, former Acting Health Secretary Concepción Quiñones De Longo, and press officers for the Health Department and La Fortaleza. She requested Puerto Rico’s mortality database from 2007 to 2020.

After examining a digital disc that the Health Department delivered, Moscoso contacted government officials again on April 6 to inform them that the database they provided was incomplete, “since some fields, such as the name of the deceased, were removed.”

Given the incomplete information, the CPI insisted on obtaining the full document and also requested a digital copy of the death certificates issued from Jan. 1, 2020 to the present. Despite the request to the public officials involved, including Llovet Díaz and the new Health Secretary, Lorenzo González Feliciano, “no representative of the parties that were contacted responded to the follow-up messages,” the legal remedy states.

Attorneys Luis José Torres Asencio, Annette Martínez Orabona and Steven Lausell Recurt, of the InterAmerican University Law School’s Legal Clinic are representing the CPI in this lawsuit.

“The information the CPI requested is not protected in any way by any confidentiality or privilege, nor is it protected under any of the exceptions to the right of access to information,” the lawsuit states.

And even if the government invokes some confidentiality or privilege over the information requested, “the public interest to access the information exceeds any claim that seeks to limit citizen access to information on this issue,” the lawsuit adds.

The Transparency and Expedited Procedure for Access to Public Information Act (Law 141-2019) creates a special mechanism for access to information, but its Article 12 recognizes that it will not be interpreted restrictively, “nor does it imply the exclusion of other rights and procedures pertaining to people requesting public information and not specifically mentioned, such as the traditional mandamus remedy.”

The Transparency Act says, among other things, that the information and documentation that the Government generates is presumed to be public and accessible to all people equally; that the information and documentation the Government produces in its analyses, transactions, and in the exercise of public authority are the legacy and memory of the people of Puerto Rico.

The CPI also asked that the Court order the parties to disclose the information when requested to do so in the future, under the same terms and in compliance with the same regulations on access to information.




Remdesivir Receives FDA Emergency Use Authorization for COVID-19 Treatment

This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (round gold objects) emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. SARS-CoV-2, also known as 2019-nCoV, is the virus that causes COVID-19. The virus shown was isolated from a patient in the U.S. NIAID-RML

Under EUA, 10-day dosing suggested for patients requiring ventilators; 5-day dosing for others

SAN JUAN – California-based Gilead Sciences Inc. announced Friday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted emergency use authorization (EUA) for the investigational antiviral remdesivir to treat COVID-19.

The biopharmaceutical company said allocation of the limited available supply of remdesivir will be made “based on guiding principles that aim to maximize access for appropriate patients in urgent need of treatment, with direction from and in collaboration with the government.”

The optimal duration of treatment is still being studied in ongoing clinical trials. Under the EUA, both 5-day and 10-day treatment durations are suggested, based on the severity of disease. The authorization is temporary and still requires FDA approval.

“The U.S. government will coordinate the donation and distribution of remdesivir to hospitals in cities most heavily impacted by COVID-19. Given the severity of illness of patients appropriate for remdesivir treatment and the limited availability of drug supply, hospitals with intensive care units and other hospitals that the government deems most in need will receive priority in the distribution of remdesivir. Gilead is working with the U.S. government on the logistics of remdesivir distribution and will provide more information when the company begins shipping the drug under the EUA,” the company’s press release reads.

The EUA is based on available data from two global clinical trials – the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ placebo-controlled Phase 3 study in patients with moderate to severe symptoms of COVID-19, including those who were critically ill, and Gilead’s global Phase 3 study evaluating 5-day and 10-day dosing durations of remdesivir in patients with severe disease.

“Multiple additional clinical trials are ongoing to generate more data on the safety and efficacy of remdesivir as a treatment for COVID-19,” Gilead said,

Remdesivir must be administered intravenously. The optimal dosing and duration of remdesivir for the treatment of COVID-19 is still unknown. Under the EUA, the 10-day dosing duration is suggested for patients “requiring invasive mechanical ventilation and/or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), and the 5-day dosing duration is suggested for patients not requiring invasive mechanical ventilation and/or ECMO. If a patient on the 5-day dosing duration does not demonstrate clinical improvement after five days, treatment may be extended for up to five additional days (10 days total),” the company explained.

Gilead has donated its supply “to help address the urgent medical needs posed by this pandemic around the world,” it said. “Assuming a 10-day treatment course, Gilead’s donation of 1.5 million individual doses of remdesivir equates to more than 140,000 treatment courses that will be provided at no cost to treat patients following potential emergency authorizations and regulatory approvals, including this EUA. “

Gilead said it has “aggressively implemented a multipronged approach to scale up production and rapidly build supply” of remdesivir.

“The company has invested significant capital, at risk, to meet the supply needs for clinical trials and emergency treatment programs, and to prepare for even greater demand following regulatory authorizations, should these occur,” it said.

“There are limited clinical data available for remdesivir. Serious and unexpected adverse events may occur that have not been previously reported with remdesivir use. Warnings: In clinical studies with remdesivir, infusion-related reactions and liver transaminase elevations have been observed,” the release reads.

The FDA has authorized distribution with accompanying Fact Sheets, which can be accessed at www.gilead.com/remdesivir.

Information from the FDA about the authorized emergency use of remdesivir is available at https://www.fda.gov/emergency-preparedness-and-response/mcm-legal-regulatory-and-policy-framework/emergency-use-authorization.




Puerto Rico Gov’t: Tourism Sector Takes Lead In Standards to Safeguard Visitor Health, Safety

Photo by Feisdra on Unsplash

Launches Certification Program for Tourism Businesses

SAN JUAN — The Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC) announced Thursday the creation of a program to grant a “gold-star validation seal” to tourism-related businesses that implement the highest health and safety measures. 

The PRTC said it seeks to gain a competitive advantage for the island in “recognizing the need for new standards of cleaning, disinfection, hygiene and the…implementation of additional measures” through the certification program, which has been developed using “the most rigorous standards, best practice cases have been used as reference, as well as guides and recommendations” from the agencies and organizations that specialize in protecting public health.

The government hopes the new hygiene standards are adopted by tourism businesses such as “hotels, resorts, paradores, posadas, bed & breakfasts, small inns, guesthouses, time-shared properties, short-term rentals, casinos, tour operators, tourist transportations, experiences management, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and attractions.”

“The objective of the program is to elevate Puerto Rico’s tourism industry and position it as the new gold standard in destination health and safety,” a press release reads.

The PRTC said it aims to “increase consumer confidence in Puerto Rico as a destination that is prepared and has adjusted to the current situation.”

“By the time the tourism commerce reopens and the destination is ready to welcome visitors again, it is expected that the vast majority of tourism-related businesses will be practicing these measures and safeguarding everyone’s safety.”

The program comprises a two-level system that was designed based on the guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 3990 report, the Puerto Rico Department of Health, Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced’s executive orders, “and high-caliber programs such as Singapore’s Safety Seal and the National Restaurant Association,” the PRTC said.

“The first level is a Tourism Health and Safety Operational Guide, a practical guidance with the mandatory measures to safeguard the health of employees, visitors and local patrons. The second one is the Health and Safety Seal; a certification program for all endorsed tourism industry businesses that meet or have exceeded the implementation and on-going execution of the established measures,” the PRTC explained.

“These operating guides and the certification program are vital for the reopening of the travel and tourism sector in Puerto Rico and are important factors that will place us in a highly competitive position once the travel and tourism market reopens. When making their travel plans, consumers will consider the destinations best prepared to provide them with the necessary measures and resources to protect their health. Collective participation in its implementation, both by companies and customers, will be key to adopting the necessary personal habits and practicing social responsibility. This is the best way to offer our local public and tourists the safety and hygiene standards that they expect and deserve,” PRTC Executive Director Carla Campos said.

According to the PRTC, the guide includes measures such as “creation of wellness checkpoints for employees and guests, new check-in process and completion of the Travel Declaration and Contact Tracing Form, safe and social distancing measures guidance per type of business and activity; restrictions and additional health measures for self-service food systems: augmented cleaning and disinfecting protocols; instructions regarding hand-sanitizing stations; and training on the use of PPE – Personal Protection Equipment.”

The program’s rollout begins Monday, May 4.




Puerto Rico Gov Urges Fiscal Board to Authorize Private Sector, Retiree Aid

AAFAF Executive Director Omar J. Marrero Díaz (CB/Rafelli González Cotto)

SAN JUAN – The executive director of the Puerto Rico Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (AAFAF by its Spanish acronym) Omar J. Marrero Díaz, insisted in a press release that the island’s Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) consider Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced’s proposal to disburse $500 to each taxpayer who works in the private sector as well as pensioners.

“We urge the Oversight Board to authorize the $500 economic stimulus for our private sector employees and for our retirees. Our people need this incentive to mitigate the economic effects of the coronavirus and to take care of the needs arising from this global pandemic. We have provided the federal Oversight Board with the cost estimate as well as the mechanism the Government of Puerto Rico will use to finance this economic response,” Vázquez stated.

The commonwealth government said it can reimburse, through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (Cares) Act, expenses incurred in its handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

“Our administration expects to fund this initiative from a reimbursement of Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) funds to the General Fund in the approximate amount of $349 million, which would benefit approximately 503,201 private sector salaried workers and 154,935 retirees that would be eligible for this initiative. Once the funds are reimbursed, the Government may begin distributing the monies to this population,” Marrero Díaz pointed out.

The cost for the $500 initiative would be approximately $349 million. Specifically, the estimated costs would be $271.6 million for private sector workers and $77.5 million for retirees.

As part of Puerto Rico government’s proposal to the board, eligible individuals for the $500 incentive would be salaried private sector employees and retirees who have gross adjusted income of $75,000 or less for single and married individuals with separate tax filings, or $150,000 or less for married individuals filing jointly. “Also, individuals would not be eligible if they received the $500 incentive for self-employed individuals under the First Phase of the economic stimulus,” the government release explained.

“We trust that the Oversight Board will provide a prompt response and that we will reach a consensus during this unprecedented challenge caused by the Coronavirus COVID-19 global pandemic,” Marrero added.

Vázquez Garced criticized earlier Wednesday that the board conditioned making the $500 incentive available.

“To prevent the disbursement of $500 that I requested for private workers, pensioners and also condition them on the disbursement of federal $1,200 when the board itself denied to our administration that we could advance them, is unfair in light of the need that Puerto Rico has today,” the governor tweeted.

“Not granting the $500, is that the sentiment of the Fiscal Oversight Board or only its executive director @njaresko? The Puerto Ricans who make up the fiscal entity know very well the inequality experienced by the 3.2 million American citizens in Puerto Rico,” the governor added.

The fiscal board’s executive director, Natalie Jaresko, on Tuesday asked the government to release federal funds, before awarding the additional $500 to private sector employees and pensioners. She also said the panel had received a letter with the request, but not a detailed proposal, such as the one received Wednesday.

“At 1:39 pm on April 29, 2020, the Oversight Board received the details promised in Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced’s letter of April 16th requesting a $500 incentive for private sector employees and retirees. We will review the request and urge the Government to provide us an economic analysis that underpins their proposal,” the board said in statement. 

Jaresko had said earlier that although the government has already paid incentives to the police and certain employees of the Department of the Treasury, there are still qualified nurses, medical technologists, emergency medical workers, firefighters and private sector nurses who have not received the aid despite the board having approved it.

Asked about the government’s excuse for the delay in disbursing the aid, Jaresko replied that “they told us that it is difficult for them to determine the status of each eligible worker.”

CyberNews contributed to this report.




Puerto Rico Fiscal Board Presents Plan for Towns to Repay Gov’t Retirement Benefit Payments

Fiscal board Executive Director Natalie Jaresko (CyberNews)

SAN JUAN – The Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico presented the Municipal Revenues Collection Center (CRIM), Puerto Rico’s municipalities, and the Government of Puerto Rico a repayment plan for municipalities to reimburse the government for the retirement benefits paid to municipal retirees. 

The nullification of Puerto Rico Law 29-2019 by the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico on April 15 reinstates the municipalities obligation to cover the Pay-as-you-go (Paygo) pensions and health care payments for their former employees. 

The board identified one-time or incremental non-budgeted revenues municipalities will use to repay the outstanding $66 million balance, including: 

• outstanding electronic lottery proceeds from fiscal year 2016 and fiscal year 2017 

• excess funds from CAE (Contribución Adicional Especial), the portion of property taxes collected to cover municipal debt obligations 

• higher tax collection than budgeted because CRIM may receive tax revenue not previously budgeted for, such as new properties taxed and collection of outstanding tax receivables 

• the proceeds from the sale of uncollected property taxes receivables, a measure that will feature prominently in the CRIM fiscal plan to be certified before fiscal year-end 

The board said it reviewed the proposals shared by CRIM and the Government. However, the panel said it was presenting what it believes to be “the most fiscally responsible approach to resolving the unfortunate situation created by the adoption of Law 29,” it’s press release reads.

“The Oversight Board is committed to help finding fiscally responsible ways to overcome challenges municipalities are facing today,” said board Executive Director Natalie Jaresko. 

“Municipalities have to pay what they owe, and the Oversight Board’s analysis shows that repaying the Government is manageable for municipalities. Repayment will cause no municipal crises, and the repayment plan does not affect operating budgets.” 

The 78 municipalities owe the government a combined $198 million for the current fiscal year 2020; the sum of $166 million in PayGo and $32 million health care costs of the Administración de Seguros Salud de Puerto Rico (ASES).

“However, the Certified Fiscal Plan and Certified Budget for fiscal year 2020 already included a payment of $132 million to CRIM’s equalization fund for distribution to municipalities. That money wasn’t paid out to municipalities because of Law 29 and can now offset part of what municipalities owe the government. The net amount municipalities owe is therefore $66 million, or about 3% of the about $1.97 billion total municipal budgets, although the impact varies on a municipality by municipality basis,” the release reads.

“Of course, the municipalities cannot repay $66 million overnight. The Oversight Board will work with the municipalities and CRIM to make sure the outstanding balance to the central government is repaid in a responsible way,” Jaresko said. “The revenues the Oversight Board identified should more than cover the municipalities’ $66 million obligation to the Government.” 

Separately, the board proposed the creation of a “$148 million short-term liquidity facility to CRIM ($110 million in fiscal year 2020 and $38 million in fiscal year 2021), funded by the Government to offset cashflow shortfalls from deferred property tax collections due to the COVID-19 crisis. The advance would be available through July 31, 2020, and in no month can total draws exceed $38 million. The advance would be repaid with tax collections in July, August, and September 2020. To ensure successful repayment, the liquidity facility will require property tax payments to be applied to the loan balance before becoming available to CRIM,” the board wrote.




Evertec acknowledges fault for unemployment system breakdown

(CyberNews)

Applicants report obstacles after launch of Covid-19 jobless program

SAN JUAN – Transaction processor Evertec acknowledged it was at fault for breakdowns in the Puerto Rico Labor & Human Resources Department’s (PRLHD) Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) system launched Tuesday.

PUA, a program enacted under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security Act (CARES Act), provides additional unemployment compensation to people who do not qualify for regular unemployment because they are self-employed, are contractors, homecare professionals, or have exhausted regular unemployment benefits amid the novel coronavirus epidemic. The program provides a supplemental weekly compensation of $600 for four months.

Many program applicants reportedly complained on social media that they could not complete the process, saying the system was incompatible with applications such as Chrome, Safari and Mozilla.

PRLHD has hired the company to run PUA and other agency digital programs.

“Certainly, there was a failure on my side or of the cloud I am using, which is a Microsoft cloud,” Evertec Vicepresident Carlos Ramírez said during a press conference. “A solution is being sought and it will be resolved.”

PRLHD Briseida Torres said that regardless of the system failure, unemployed people could also apply to the program via email, given that agency offices are not admitting visitors.

“I assure you that, one way or the other, people will be applying for PUA benefits, be it on this platform or other mechanism, or through the email we mentioned,” a defense Torres said during the afternoon press conference.

The agency reported that despite the glitches, it had processed 1,600 applications by midday.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Elmer Román attributed the system failure to a “problem of fragility in the government.”

“You have a system of government that has worked from emergency to emergency and it is given a short time period to develop technological platforms to address new problems like this case of the PUA, so that engineers develop a system when I know that many of these processes take at least two weeks of design, two weeks of development, three weeks of code development, and one or two weeks of implementation to do testing,” he said, adding that under such circumstances it is inevitable that the system will collapse.

“I think the work that the Labor Department has done in this case is commendable,” he added. “They developed a program for a volume of people expected in two weeks. This situation is understandable but we will work 24-7 until we solve this.”

During the past few years, Evertec, which services most of Puerto Rico’s automated-teller machines (ATMs) and point-of-sale (POS) terminals, has experienced several system breakdowns leading to people unable to use their debit cards to take cash out of ATMs and thousands of stores not being able to process debit transactions.  




Puerto Rico Gov’t is still evaluating how businesses will reopen in phases

Gobierno todavía evalúa cómo reabrirán escalonadamente los comercios (Sonido)
Puerto Rico Health Secretary Lorenzo González (CyberNews)

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico’s Health secretary, Dr. Lorenzo González Feliciano, said Tuesday that he is still evaluating the phases on which businesses can reopen, while the lockdown/curfew Executive Order is in effect until Sunday, May 3.

“When we look at the data of the absolutely confirmed cases by testing, we see that it has been two or three daily. I have said that the frame of reference for me…May 8 is the point where we should see the peak (of infections) in Puerto Rico. We have said that the curfew is until May 3; we will definitely sit down with the governor of Puerto Rico, with the secretary of the Department of Economic Development of Puerto Rico and the entire work team of the government of Puerto Rico to give them suggestions, advice, guidance, particularly from the medical perspective and from the perspective of economic developmen…,” González Feliciano replied to questions from the press.

“All of this has to be discussed; everything is relative to the reality of Puerto Rico. I think we have sufficient strength, both in terms of the work team and data, to generate an incentive for the economy in the coming days,” he added.

For his part, the secretary of the Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC), Manuel Laboy Rivera, insisted that the economic reopening should be gradual.

“I think the key here is a slow, gradual and cautious opening,” the DDEC secretary said.

“Federal Health guidelines to reopen an economy little by little establish that you must always ensure the health structure, the number of intensive care beds, ventilators, etc. If those numbers start to move in the opposite direction, you have to back out. We cannot tolerate that risk,” he added.




Economic Development Secretary: We Must Learn to Live With This Reality

Economic Development Secretary Manuel Laboy

Says Curfew Should Remain While Certain Sectors Are Opened Amid Severe Unemployment

The secretary of the Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC), Manuel Laboy said on Monday that the economy cannot bear to stay closed for several more months while a vaccine for COVID-19 is found, so Puerto Rico must adapt to the new reality.

“We have to learn to live with this reality already. We hope that at some point the vaccine will arrive, but there is no certainty about that. Some say that it will be months and obviously the economy cannot bear that. We have learned that we have been able to modify our behaviors as individuals and also as entrepreneurs to adapt to this new reality,” Laboy said in a radio interview (WKAQ).

The COVID-19 Medical Task Force released a report with its recommendations for a gradual reopening of the economy. The official said that the Economic Task Force also submitted a report and that both “are quite similar.”

“One thing is closure and another thing is the curfew. What is envisioned is that the flexibility of economic sectors is done from the point of view of the [business] closures, but we all agree that the curfew must continue, precisely because we have to maintain the social distancing controls that are important, in addition to that we have to do more tests, we have to continue addressing the tracing of contacts, among other things,” Laboy explained.

He indicated that he is recommending that the governor, Wanda Vázquez Garced, in her next executive order take into consideration the reopening of the construction sector, manufacturing and that the hospital sector is addressed to avoid the bankruptcy of private hospitals. In a second phase, the recommendation is that prohibitions on professional services, real estate, the financial sector and others be relaxed.

“We are going on the seventh week now and the economic situation is going to be very difficult. There are already estimates that unemployment could be…over 30 percent,” the official warned.

However, he said that remote and digital work will continue to be encouraged. In cases where warranted, employers must take all precautions.

On Sunday, May 3, the current executive order of curfew and business closures expires, which includes a curfew between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. Some businesses operate in a limited fashion, while supermarkets are closed Sundays.




Puerto Rico Restaurant Association: We Are Ready to Open Fully

Publishes Commitment to Safety Guide

The president of the Puerto Rico Restaurant Association (ASORE), Marisol Vega Couto, announced Sunday that members are preparing to start welcoming people in their facilities.

ASORE President Marisol Vega Couto

“For more than a month, restaurants that have been operating limitedly under the provisions of the corresponding executive orders have demonstrated that enhanced health and safety measures have been effective. Thousands of employees in our industry have been working in recent weeks, subject to strict safety measures and monitoring of their health, with a very small number of reported cases. This way, we believe that when the government deems the time is right, we will be able to gradually and partially open the dining rooms, with all the safety measures required by the agencies concerned, for customers who prefer to sit down and consume their food,” Vega Couto said in a statement.

The president of ASORE explained that the recommendations found in the Nuestro Compromiso (Our Commitment) guide are based on the protocols of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health, as well as recommendations from the National Restaurant Association (NRA), with the health of citizens and employees as the priority, and they will be modified as required. They have been sent to ASORE’s members and were also presented to the Economic Task Force for the government’s consideration in its reopening plan.

However, restaurant operators must commit to following the prevention and hygiene measures recommended in the guide to initiate the reopening of their dining rooms, resulting in self-certification by the industry. Some of the recommendations contained in the guide follow:

  • Continue promoting physical distance between customers by placing barriers in the dining rooms and distributing space between tables and chairs.
  • Maintain the use of protective equipment (masks, gloves).
  • Provide disinfectant gel in the restaurant for customers.
  • Clean and disinfect the common areas of the restaurants regularly.
  • Perform screening (temperature taking) of employees before starting their shift. Do not accept sick employees in restaurants.
  • Post Our Commitment (a sheet containing reopening agreements between restaurants and consumers) at the entrances of your establishments to inform about the steps being taken for a responsible reopening.

“We are confident that this Support Guide will be viewed positively and that the restaurant industry can join the group of businesses that will be authorized to reopen shortly. Our restaurants represent a safe and reliable alternative when it comes to eating, with trained employees, especially for those essential employees who are providing an important service to the country,” Vega Couto said .

It should be noted that recently the organization, which represents about 1,000 restaurants on the island, carried out a survey of its members, which revealed that as a result of these weeks of lockdown, the restaurants operate while having sustained more than 75 percent in losses.

The guide is now available for all restaurants on the entity’s website, asorepr.com (ASORE Updates)