Sunday, July 5, 2020

Gov’t offices, universities to reopen this week under new Covid-19 executive order

By on June 29, 2020

Governor orders curfew extended to July 22; requests schools to prepare for August reopening

SAN JUAN – Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced issued a new Covid-19 pandemic executive order on Sunday that extends the 10 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew until July 22, and sets the parameters for the resumption of work in government offices this week and the reopening of public and private schools in August.

“As with previous executive orders, it emphasizes the importance of using face masks at all times, as is recommended by the medical task force and Health Secretary Lorenzo González,” the governor said in a statement announcing Executive Order 2020-048.

Vázquez said that several measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus will be obligatory, particularly the use of face masks, scarfs or cloths to cover the area of the mouth and nose at all times. Visitors to establishments, stores, restaurants, movie theaters and offices will be required to keep a minimum of six feet apart and avoid “unnecessary crowds,” she said.

The governor said that citizens who fail to comply with these precautionary measures would be violating the order and would be subject to “established fines and penalties.”

“Our priority is maintaining our island healthy and protecting the lives of all,” she said.

The governor’s executive order states that career government employees that are deemed necessary by their employers should start working on Wednesday at their respective agencies in staggered schedules. With the aim of protecting the health and safety of public employees, each agency head is directed to implement all heath and infection control measures contained in the Covid-19 Risk Management and Exposure Control Plan.

Government agencies providing direct services to the public will be able to reopen offices starting on July 6, upon implementing the precautionary measures in the plan. Each agency, according to its particular function, should notify the public of the conditions to be attended and receive services, according to the executive order. The governor reiterated the use of face masks and social distancing in these settings.

Puerto Rico Transportation Secretary Carlos Contreras Aponte said on Monday that starting on Wednesday the public may start making appointments to receive services at each of the Drivers Service Centers (Cescos by their Spanish acronym) throughout the island starting on July 6. He said the appointment system will be the only means to carry out Cesco-related transactions such as drivers’ license issuances and renewals, and automobile ownership transfers.

The executive order allows universities and colleges to reopen, conditioned on the development of a Covid-19 prevention protocols that comply with recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Puerto Rico Health Department, as well as with Puerto Rico Occupational Safety and Health Administration (PR-OSHA) rules. These institutions must implement measures that include keeping six feet apart, obligatory face mask wearing and frequent washing of hands.

Vázquez said that public and private schools, which will be allowed to reopen in mid-August, must develop work plans to prevent Covid-19 contagion during the upcoming school semester. She added that before each school can reopen it must establish communication and educational activities to inform teachers, parents and guardians about the protection protocols for employees and students “so that doubts are addressed and that there is acknowledgement that responsibility for avoiding contagion is shared.”

To that end, the governor said, public and private school buildings will be allowed to reopen during the term of the current executive order to prepare such facilities for next semester, although students will not be allowed to visit them. She stressed that each educational entity, including the Education Department, must “opportunely” present a plan explaining how classes will resume and how courses will be offered.

The executive order allows the resumption on Wednesday of collective and mass transportation services, including the Metropolitan Authority and the Urban Train, in line with Covid-19 regulations. The sale of the electronic and traditional lotteries will be allowed to resume on this same day, Vázquez said.

Funerals and burials will be allowed to take place in conformity with protocols established by the commonwealth Health Department, according to the executive order, which allows cemeteries to open to the public as long as precautionary measures, including social distancing, are taken. Funeral services may only be held until 8:00 p.m. in order to set aside time after the wake for the disinfection of the area.

The governor’s order allows the resumption of “individual, collective and team sports and recreational entertainment” outside of curfew hours and following Puerto Rico Recreation & Sports Department (DRD by its Spanish initials) rules and regulations. Starting on July 15, the resumption of professional league sporting events, except for contact sports like boxing, will be allowed outside of curfew hours.

Casinos will be allowed to reopen as long as they do not exceed the 75 percent occupation limit set by the Puerto Rico Building Code of 2018, according to the executive order, which states that such facilities must comply with Covid-19 protocols and guides established by the CDC, the commonwealth Health Department and PR-OSHA.

Similarly, the occupancy allowed in commercial establishments and restaurants was increased to 75 percent in the latest executive order, which adds that each commercial establishment must be responsible for complying with the safety and health measures required in the reopening protocol, including but not limited to the use of adequate personal protection equipment, screening and social distancing.

The executive order allows the reopening of venues for in-person events and concerts, as long as these events enforce the local and federal protocols to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus, including the daily disinfection of such facilities. Producers will be required to comply with Covid-19 prevention measures set by each venue. Sporting events held in these venues will similarly be required to follow such rules and regulations, including DRD regulations and those specific to each activity allowed.

“The measures we initially took, although difficult, were adequate and were taken on time. Likewise, the compliance of the citizenry with staying in their homes during all that time, now allows us to continue reopening the spaces, always ensuring the protection and health of all,” Vázquez said in the statement. “Each citizen has the responsibility to take precautionary measures to prevent the spread of this virus. But we cannot forget that we live in the midst of a pandemic and that we have to take care of ourselves in order to take care of our loved ones. Let us continue to be responsible, ensuring the well-being of all of us who live on this island.”

The governor said that in the next three weeks there will be a “responsible monitoring” of the reopening measures to study their effects and implement any necessary modifications to the executive order “in an opportune manner.” She said that “the moment” in which “a notable increase” is detected in the risk of Covid-19 infection and health services are stretched to capacity as a result, the reopening measures could be halted or postponed. Otherwise, she said, the gradual reopening of the island’s economy would continue.

“The increase or decrease in the risk of infection will depend, to a large extent, on the collaboration of all citizens. Therefore, if the faithful compliance with the strict precautionary measures is not observed, the necessary restrictions will be established,” Vázquez said, adding that the full text of the executive order will be available the Puerto Rico State Department website “in the next few days.”

The governor said that her administration is following the increase in Covid-19 cases on the U.S. mainland and in other countries, and that she will soon make an announcement concerning additional measures that will be at the island’s airports to prevent contagion from arriving passengers.

The commonwealth Health Department did not report Covid-19 deaths on Monday, while it reported 13 confirmed cases of the often deadly virus, including 40 probable cases. The agency press release said that confirmed coronavirus deaths remained at 59 while probable deaths stood at 94, making for a total death count of 153 since the first case was detected on the island in March.