Puerto Ricans Brace for the Imminent Arrival of Coronavirus

By Matt Blair

March 11, 2020

With four potential cases waiting for test results, Puerto Ricans try to carry on life as normal—for now.

Puerto Rico is on high alert since the weekend, and in the next hours will confirm if it is the fourth country in the Caribbean with confirmed cases of coronavirus.

On Sunday night the island’s governor, Wanda Vázquez, announced a press conference along with the task force appointed to deal with the novel virus.

Vázquez confirmed a suspicious case, the first one for Puerto Rico, and that the patient had arrived on a cruise ship that same day—a 68-year-old Italian woman with pneumonia symptoms. 

It was the first time the Costa Luminosa cruise, operated by Italian company Costa Crociere, had touched land in Puerto Rico. With a maximum capacity of 2,826 passengers and 1,050 crew members, the cruise ship had 1,427 passengers on board. 96% of them disembarked in Old San Juan and spent almost the whole day in the historic section of the city.

The patient was transported to the Ashford Presbyterian Community Hospital with her husband, who hasn’t shown symptoms. 

Government Officials May Be At Risk Too

But that possible patient is not the only way in which the virus could have disembarked on the island. It was later reported that the director of the Compañía de Turismo de Puerto Rico, the public corporation that fosters tourism, had boarded the Costa Luminosa along with three employees to give the captain a commemorative plaque recognizing their first visit to the Island.

Carla Campos, the director, later claimed that at the time she didn’t know about the sick passenger, and assured that when they were on board they only had contact with the captain.

On Monday, the possibility of more cases went up after renowned oncologist Fernando Cabanillas reported that for almost two weeks the Puerto Rico Health Department denied the coronavirus testing to a 71-year-old patient that had exhibited the symptoms. The man, a cancer patient, did not travel to any place nor had contact with any known or confirmed case.

“He had the classic symptoms, but we had to rule out the negative flu test,” said Cabanillas. “Then he had a chest CT-Scan that showed there was bilateral pneumonia with coronavirus characteristics.”

The doctor reported that the Health Department claimed to have denied the test because they were concerned that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would deny additional testing if the results were negative.

Just a few hours after Cabanillas’ report, the agency approved the test.

On Tuesday, the Island woke up with four possible cases of infection, the Secretary of the Department of Health, Rafael Rodríguez, confirmed at a press conference.

It is highly possible that ill individuals continue to arrive to the Island, after La Fortaleza Public Affairs Secretary, Osvaldo Soto, explained yesterday that Vázquez participate in a conference call with Vice President, Mike Pence, and other state governors, to discuss additional security measures.

“They discussed that anyone who has a critical illness and is traveling on a cruise ship in the region, will be transferred here to Puerto Rico. The patient is going to be transferred to a hospital in Puerto Rico, but has to fulfill that particularity that it is a critical condition, regardless of the nationality”, said Soto.

More Tests Approved But Results Take Longer as They are Not Being Handled Locally

 “Four tests have been authorized—two of them to the Italian couple that arrived on the island through a cruise ship,” said Rodríguez. “The other test was performed on a male cancer patient, a 71-year-old resident of Puerto Rico. And the last case that was sampled for COVID-19 was an American citizen, resident of California and 87 years old, who was transferred in a helicopter of the Coast Guard from a cruise to the Mayagüez Medical Center.”

Health authorities also informed on Tuesday that the results would be available before Friday. They also informed that it is possible that next week the Island will begin testing locally.

“We are in constant communication with the CDC, so that we can, within this next week, receive some reactive agents to begin a process called proficiency, and then we hope we will have the ability to process the samples locally”, said Jessica Cabrera, director of the Office of Health Biosecurity.

Early this morning, the Health Department confirmed the fifth suspicious case, an 86-year-old Puerto Rican that had not traveled.

Beyond that, and aside from the empty shelves of sanitizer, alcohol, vitamins and cleaning supplies in stores, life in Puerto Rico—and for the almost 4 million American citizens who live there— continues its normal rhythm.

The country is right in the middle of the high season for tourism. Just last weekend, two of the most important salsa events, the Puerto Rico Salsa Congress and National Salsa Day, both attracting competitors and visitors from all over the world, took place as planned.


CATEGORIES: Coronavirus | Puerto Rico


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