Puerto Rico gov’t briefing: Leptospirosis raises Hurricane Maria death toll
SAN JUAN – The secretary of Public Affairs and Public Policy, Ramón Rosario Cortés, said Thursday that the deaths associated with the passage of Hurricane María in Puerto Rico rose from 54 to 55, after laboratory results confirmed an additional victim of leptospirosis.
This means four deaths after the hurricane have been attributed to leptospirosis. These results were part of the 35 patient samples sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), of which nine tested positive for the disease in patients who are or were hospitalized but have not died.
This information comes nearly two weeks after the government confirmed an exponential rise in cases of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease caused by water contaminated with infected animal urine or tissue, and causing fever, muscle pain, skin bleeding and even death.
During the government’s briefing on the 42nd day after the historic hurricane made landfall, Rosario also said Gov. Ricardo Rosselló had “indefinitely” extended the order to exempt processed foods sold in coffee shops, restaurants and other businesses from the sales and use tax (IVU by its Spanish acronym). The decision comes at a time when only 37.9% of the island’s electric power generation has been restored.
The Consumer Affairs Department (DACO by its Spanish acronym) also extended its price freeze on basic necessities and the profit margin on fuel prices for an additional period.
Five days of free tolls
The secretary also said the government will grant a “grace period” on the collection of tolls for Sept. 20 to 24, or the day Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico and four days thereafter. This means people who drove through toll stations without having a balance in their AutoExpreso account during that five-day period will not be charged.
Previously, the government had indicated it would not issue fines for going through tolls without a balance during the post-hurricane emergency period, which remains. However, tolls will be charged retrospectively, from Sept. 25 onward.
It is expected, when electricity is restored to toll stations, that the issuance of fines will begin, since drivers will have payment alternatives.
USNS Comfort sees more patients
Meanwhile, Rosario also informed that the hospital vessel USNS Comfort has seen a total of 3,000 patients while docked at Puerto Rico, 125 of whom have been seen in the past 24 hours.
The average number of patients treated at USNS Comfort increased when it was determined last week that it would dock at the San Juan pier, rather than circling the island.
That also changed the access process to the hospital ship, which can now receive patients who arrive directly to the port. Before this, access was only by referral from six hospitals and via helicopter, as the ship sailed around the island.
Finally, the government’s status.pr website informs that 927 of 1,100 gas stations, 420 of 471 supermarkets, 70 shelters with 3,068 evacuees, 248 of 314 bank branches and 265 cooperatives are open as of Thursday. It should be noted that many of these businesses are operating in a limited fashion due to a lack of electricity.
At least 1,165 of the 1,619 telecommunication towers are in operation, resulting in 70% of all call services functioning, which is also made possible through support devices such as Cells on Wheels (CoW) and helium balloons from Project Loon, an initiative of Google parent Alphabet Inc.