Is the Reopening Causing a New Spike in Coronavirus Cases in Puerto Rico?

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Image via Puerto Rico COVID-19 Dashboard

By Mivette Vega

June 4, 2020

More than 100 new cases were reported on Thursday, and the president of the College of Physicians noted an increase in hospitalizations and ventilator use.

The Puerto Rico Health Department reported on Thursday 485 additional positive cases of COVID-19 for a total of 4,508 cases on the island.

Of those cases, 130 are new compared to yesterday’s figures.

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The rest of the cases, 355, correspond to a Health Department adjustment of the number of cases determined by serological tests. 

“The samples for the serological tests were collected from March 31 to May 16. These results were identified through the efforts of various entities, clinical laboratories, and the Department of Health to ensure all samples taken for COVID-19 are registered in the Bio Portal dashboard, regardless of the date they were collected,” stated a press release from the Department of Health.

This is not the first time the Health Department has had issues with COVID-19 numbers

In mid-April, Lorenzo González, the secretary of the Health Department, confirmed during a news conference that his agency was reporting inaccurate data. When individuals took more than one test, the results were sometimes double or triple counted. 

On Thursday, González said some private laboratories were not providing data on the testing. Instead, the labs were sending information to the Science, Technology, and Research Trust of Puerto Rico. 

According to the Trust, 100,000 molecular tests were performed on the island, but the Health Department only knew of 61,702 tests performed until May 28.

“We made it clear that laboratories in Puerto Rico have the responsibility to report cases to the Department of Health first and foremost. If you look at the data for serological tests, one presumes that they could come from the smaller laboratories because they are the ones that typically collect the most samples for this kind of test. They do collect PCR (molecular) samples, but send them to a reference laboratory,” explained González to El Nuevo Día.

González admitted that knowing how data from some laboratories could be unaccounted for, the total of positive cases could be higher.

“Yes, there may be more tests or (positive) results, and we are definitely continuing to work with (the labs) regularly to ensure that this information reaches us,” said González.

This Thursday reported the highest number of positive cases for the week, totaling 130. During the past five weeks, numbers of more than 100 daily cases have only been reported on Fridays. 

This weekend marks two weeks of the easing of the curfew on Memorial Day Weekend. At that point, people were allowed to go to the beach. On Tuesday, June 26, beauty salons, barbershops, financial services, and small and medium businesses started to operate. 

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Víctor Ramos, president of Puerto Rico’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, said in an interview with Radio Isla this morning that there has been a slight increase in hospitalizations and ventilator use since the reopening.

“There are three factors contributing to the increase in cases. First, more people are interacting with each other, and that’s going to cause more infections. Several people who were at the beach recently have since tested positive for COVID-19,” Ramos said.

Take a listen to the entire interview with Ramos on Radio Isla.

The doctor went on to say the other two factors affecting the numbers are the fact that more are available, and how workplaces are requiring that employees get tested before returning to work. 

On Wednesday, David Capó, former Puerto Rico state epidemiologist, reflected on the work he did before his contract expired on May 31.

After two months of working in this capacity, Capó didn’t renew his contract because his new responsibilities excluded issues relating directly to epidemiology. 

El Nuevo Día reported that the health official had been marginalized by the Environmental Health Division of the Health Department from all epidemiology-related functions, including the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On behalf of the Health Department, González said in an interview with Radio Isla no one will be hired to fill the lead epidemiologist position left vacant after Capó’s departure.

“I did not have a state epidemiologist from 2001 to 2012, and Dr. Capó was a consultant for the Department of Health,” González sentenced.

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