Puerto Rico Health Department recommends partial closure of businesses
Gov. Vázquez expected to announce changes to executive order Thursday
SAN JUAN — Hours before Gov. Wanda Vázquez announces changes to her executive order to address the rise in COVID-19 cases, a Department of Health document reveals strict recommendations that include a partial closure proposed from Dec. 7 through Dec. 21.
Sources close to the administration had assured earlier Wednesday that the document was official, but that it does not necessarily represent the final actions the governor will announce Thursday. The department issued a statement in the afternoon confirming the document’s validity.
Among the Health Department proposals is that sales in shopping centers, retail stores and department stores be limited to online purchases to be shipped or picked up to avoid crowds in these enclosed locations during the weeks before the holidays.
It is recommended that food establishments only receive family groups of fewer than six people per table, ensuring distancing of six feet between each group, both in closed and open areas. Bakeries would only be allowed to offer take-out.
The use of outdoor, open-air spaces should be prioritized as well as that food is ordered as takeout. It is recommended that the consumption of alcoholic beverages in bars of any size be prohibited in the place.
The department also proposes that although supermarkets, pharmacies, dispensaries, gas stations, garages, and medical offices and hospitals continue offering service, it recommends limiting the time of people spend in those establishments to, for example 30 minutes for supermarkets and pharmacies and 20 minutes at gas stations.
Garages would only open by appointment.
In the case of schools and universities, they are urged to continue to operate online, while childcare is limited only to children of essential service personnel and first responders.
The document adds that non-essential services such as hair salons, barbershops and spas should only be offered by appointment. It is recommended that both employees and customers wear N95 or surgical masks.
It is recommended that religious activities be held virtually or limit in-person attendance to six or fewer people who must have 6 feet of space between them.
The department favors the use of beaches to promote mental health, without allowing the gathering of different family groups and prohibiting the consumption of alcohol and loud music. It also requests that groups keep 9 feet or more away from each other and that people carry identification to confirm they are from the same family group.
As on the beaches, the agency indicates that for the use of boats, people must carry their ID to prove they belong to the same family group, not allow more than six people in the vessel and that there be 20 feet between boats.
Gyms will only be able to operate outdoors and practicing social distancing.
It is recommended that sports events request authorization from the Sports and Recreation Department, as is currently the case, and that contact sports such as basketball, soccer and boxing remain prohibited. No more than six people can gather at a time when bicycling or riding motorcycles or horses, and a 6-foot distance must be maintained.
Movie theaters, theaters, casinos, public swimming pools, museums, libraries and games centers for children and adults should be temporarily closed, according to the health officials.
The document indicates that the short-term goals of these measures is to control the spread and community transmission to reduce hospitalizations and deaths in Puerto Rico in order to reduce the COVID-19 alert level and be able to evaluate plans of the gradual reopening as of Dec. 21. In addition, it said, to establish a more controlled transmission framework before vaccinations begin.
The department issued the following media release:
“The recommendation reports shared through social media today are legitimate documents prepared by the Data Science teams and the Municipal Case Investigation and Contact Tracking System of the Department of Health. They represent a summary of the current status of the epidemic in Puerto Rico, based on the data collected on the official platform of the Department of Health, the Bioportal.
“This report contains descriptive data that breaks down the status of the epidemic, in reference to the system that addresses it, to make recommendations based on the findings. The reports also contain advanced prediction models and risk measurement approaches, complementary to the existing ones, to strengthen the analysis and continue making decisions based on more in-depth analysis.
“This document should not be construed as a writing that represents the final decision to be incorporated into the current executive order. It was shared with the scientific groups and would be presented to Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced for, together with the recommendations of other groups, to make an informed decision for the well-being of the people of Puerto Rico and the proper management of the pandemic.”