Puerto Rico Governor Asks FAA to Restrict Flights to Curb Spread of Covid-19
SAN JUAN — Gov. Wanda Vázquez announced Wednesday morning that she has asked Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) Administrator Stephen Marshall Dickson for permission to take several measures to control air traffic, including the suspension of domestic and international flights in Puerto Rico for 14 days, amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Among the requests Vázquez made to the FAA, which has sole jurisdiction over U.S. airspace, are for the government of Puerto Rico to be allowed to close the airports where the National Guard was not conducting screenings.
She further requested for the FAA to issue an official response to her request, which she made in a letter sent March 4, asking that all chartered flights from locations affected by the novel coronavirus be redirected to the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in Carolina, Rafael Hernández Airport in Aguadilla and Fernando Luis Ribas Dominicci Airport in Isla Grande in order to “centralize” screenings.
In addition, the governor asked the FAA allow the local government prohibit all general aviation flights, except to Muñoz Marín Airport, also in an effort to concentrate monitoring efforts. The request exempts air ambulances, law enforcement agencies and military flights.
“Each of these requests are independent from each other,” Vázquez said in a release issued by her office, La Fortaleza. “We have requested for the FAA to grant us one [of the requests] or all of them simultaneously. Puerto Rico is an island. Until a few days ago, we had no cases of coronavirus COVID-19, and now, through the arrival of tourists, both by ship and by plane, we have five positive cases. We don’t want any more cases in Puerto Rico, and the only way to prevent more people from being infected with this virus is by taking greater control over the arrival of travelers. We need assistance from the federal government to allow us to control air travel.”
Vázquez stressed that she can take control of the island’s maritime ports and did so Sunday when banning cruiseships from arriving. Airport closures for non-aeronautical reasons, as in this case, require FAA authorization.
Meanwhile, Dominican Republic’s president, Danilo Medina, said he was closing all of the island’s borders ports on Thursday.
On Tuesday, the National Guard began a screening operation at Muñoz Marín Airport in an effort to identify travelers that could spread Covid-19.
The governor explained that the evaluation of passengers by the National Guard consists of an initial process, with a questionnaire related to their current state of health and by taking their temperature to see if they have a fever. Passengers who have a fever of 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit will undergo a medical evaluation by Health Department personnel and the National Guard who will then make the appropriate medical referrals.
“So far, over 280 members of the National Guard are working tirelessly to protect the people of Puerto Rico from possible additional Covis-19 cases. These operations will extend to the airports in Aguadilla, Ceiba, Ponce and Isla Grande,” the governor said.
Staff from several educational institutions—such as the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Medical Sciences Campus, Universidad Central del Caribe in Bayamón and the Escuela San Juan Bautista in Caguas—are collaborating with the National Guard in the operation.
In addition, Vázquez announced that the Health Department has received 200 Covid-19 tests kits from Quest Diagnostics to add to the Health Department’s inventory at the airport.
“It is important for the people of Puerto Rico to know that we are doing absolutely everything in our power to execute the necessary measures to prevent the further spread of this virus. But, we all have to do our part. It is essential that we stay in our homes, so we are taking care of the health of all our family and acquaintances. I recognize that this is a sacrifice, but it will be worth it because, this way, we are saving lives,” Vázquez assured.