More Health Experts Added to Puerto Rico Gov’t Covid-19 Task Force
Two Hospitals Designated to Treat Intensive Care Patients
SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez announced Thursday that a team of doctors will be forming part of the task force she created to address the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
At a news conference on the grounds of the La Fortaleza executive mansion, Vázquez also announced that critical patients who contract the respiratory disease will be treated at the Ramón Ruiz Arnau University Hospital (Hurra by its Spanish acronym), also known as the Bayamón Regional Hospital. A second hospital, the Comprehensive Cancer Center, will be used if necessary. Vázquez said the equipment needed is being purchased so the hospital is equipped to address the health emergency.
“Having six positive Covid-19 cases, we have integrated into the task force a team of healthcare professionals, who will work hand in hand with the government,” Vázquez said.
“As the days have passed we are advancing in the protection of our citizens,” Vázquez assured. “And that is precisely what we want to communicate today. Firstly, we are talking about the task force that will coordinate this emergency’s efforts.”
University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Medical Sciences Campus Dean Segundo Rodríguez Quilichini is leading the team of doctors in the fields of microbiology, infectiology, psychiatry, public health and trauma.
“The expertise, commitment and interdisciplinary approach of this group of experts gives the island certainty that this emergency is taken care of comprehensively, and that the determinations and actions to be followed are aligned with the most up-to-date scientific data about the Covid-19,” Rodríguez Quilichini said.
“Today, we have 1,000 tests, with which the Health Department’s Public Health Laboratory is working with,” the governor said, adding that a “purchase order was made with Quest Labs to increase the ability of available testing. They will be sent to that company’s laboratory for processing. The results will be available within three to six days.”
“These tests will be administered to people with symptoms,” she said. “In this case, you would go to the doctor and if they determine that the test should be carried out, it will be,” Vázquez said, clarifying that although a Health Department epidemiologist’s authorization is no longer needed, they should be informed, nevertheless, to keep a record.
The governor said HURRA will have some 400 beds for critical patients. The hospital has 20 isolation rooms. Although the facility is currently being used for regular patients, the governor said these would be transferred to make room for Covid-19 patients. There are more than 200 isolation beds in the island’s hospitals, the governor said.
“The HURRA hospital, where the critical Covid-19 patients will be [treated],” Vázquez said, by a staff of 55 doctors and 171 nurses, “will have a hospital director,” Dr. Pablo Rodríguez Ortiz, who is the director of the Medical Center’s Trauma Hospital and president of the Puerto Rico Trauma Committee before the American College of Surgeons, who she called “the right person.”
The governor thanked the new team of health practitioners for their availability to help her administration’s efforts “to be able to be safe and healthy, which is the priority at this time.”
“We should all work together to fight this virus and avoid its propagation in Puerto Rico,” Vázquez stressed.
The Comprehensive Cancer Center, meanwhile, has 20 rooms equipped to receive infected patients. Rodríguez Quilichini said the government has purchased 72 beds to equip the hospital as well as other needed equipment.
About 120 additional ventilators have been ordered by the government to supply other state hospitals, along with additional surgical masks, vinyl gloves and other protective gear to prevent exposure to the virus. Vázquez said some $2.8 million has been directed for these health emergency measures.
“The drastic measures we have taken so far have let us maintain control,” the governor said, adding, “the word control has to be used carefully,” as more tests are being carried out daily, and the number of positive cases could rise.
“We are prepared to be able to extend the number of [isolated] rooms if necessary,” she assured.
Vázquez stressed President Trump’s comments that the tests will be cost-free. Regarding treatment, groups “representing hospitals, doctors and nurses are asking Congress for $100 billion to help the health care system respond” to the outbreak, “which could involve providing treatment for tens of thousands of seriously ill people,” the Associated Press reports.
Screening devices “have arrived” for the National Guard to take the temperature of Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport passengers, the governor said, “to help identify those people who have symptoms.”
She stressed that the place of most concern for potential spreading of the virus was the airport. Vázquez has petitioned the FAA to restrict most flights to the island in an effort to concentrate travelers to Muñoz Marín Airport, which is best-prepared to monitor them.
“We are focusing our efforts to be able to detect and locate these people who could be a possible risk, so the screening equipment is a great alternative to be able to identify these citizens who come with a fever,” she said.
Of the 90 people tested for Covid-19 on the island, six were found to have the disease, while 56 had negative results and 29 tests have yet to arrive. The Health Department has 1,000 test kits and has ordered 4,000 more. In addition the Health Department ordered 200,000 so-called rapid test kits.
She acknowledged that the distancing measures she ordered, namely the non-essential business closures and curfew, are affecting the economy, but said she was meeting with her economic team Thursday afternoon to discuss the alternatives for businesses. Further details on the economic measures the government will be taking will be announced Friday, she added.
Meanwhile, it was reported that the Veterans Hospital has performed 38 Covid-19 tests, of which one came back positive, 17 negative and 20 are pending results.
Furthermore, she said “mobile biosecurity units” will be set up in the island-municipalities of Vieques and Culebra for residents with symptoms to receive medical attention and determine whether they have been infected.
The Telemedicine Act is being amended so patients can receive an array of services over the phone, including to get a prescription for refilling their daily medication, in an effort by lawmakers to reduce the number of people who wait at doctors’ offices.
On Wednesday, after Vázquez’s task force announced that the Health Department changed how patients receive medical attention for Covid-19 symptoms are handled, the sixth case of infection was confirmed—a patient at the Veterans’ Hospital. Doctors can now order testing for Covid-19 without Health Department authorization, La Fortaleza Public Affairs Secretary Osvaldo Soto said.
“The criteria of having regional epidemiologists authorize the testing has been eliminated under these new guidelines,” Soto said. “These recommendations have been communicated to the hospitals so that everyone is clear and the cases and tests can be managed. The governor has also requested—and it has been included in the new guidelines—that priority will be given to patients over 65 years old, who are the people that are most vulnerable to this virus.”