Puerto-Rico-COVID Experts have warned that the situation can worsen this week and next, when infections resulting from the thousands of people exposed on Election Day start showing in reports. In the picture, people wearing masks waited in line to vote at the Rafael Labra School in San Juan.
Image via AP Photo/Carlos Giusti

The island has a 10% COVID positivity rate in 67 of the 78 municipalities.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—During the past eight days, Puerto Rico’s Health Department has reported 3,444 confirmed new cases of COVID-19.

As of Thursday, the local Health Department reported 1,154 new confirmed cases, which sets a new record. That’s the highest one-day figure reported since the beginning of the pandemic. 

The island is currently on orange alert, which means there is a high risk of COVID-19 infection, said the Puerto Rico Public Health Trust (PRPHT).

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As of Wednesday, the total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Puerto Rico is 39,968, with 35,210 possible cases. The island’s death toll is at 909. Of those deaths, 700 are confirmed coronavirus deaths, and 209 are from symptoms similar to a COVID infection. Since the beginning of November, 43 people have died from the virus.

Experts have warned that the situation will worsen next week, when infections resulting from the thousands of people exposed on Election Day start showing in reports.

The rise in the number of hospitalizations is also concerning. Currently, 566 people are hospitalized, the highest number on the island since March.

Of the total number of hospitalized people, 72 patients are in intensive care units and 58 are connected to an artificial ventilator.

According to the Task Force Ciudadano Puerto Rico, an initiative of professionals from various fields, the number of hospitalizations next week could be anywhere from 500 to 600.

According to the PRPHT, the positivity rate on the island is at 10% in 67 of the island’s 78 municipalities, a high-risk level of infection. The number of active cases recently increased from 115 to 183 per 100,000 inhabitants.

The World Health Organization recommends that the percentage of positive cases stays below 5% for at least two weeks before governments consider reopening.

A new local executive order will go into effect Saturday. Puerto Rico health experts are advocating for stricter measures. Merchants are opposing the additional measures, mostly because of the proximity of the holiday shopping season. 

Dr. José Rodríguez Orengo, PRPHT director, said he would not like the economic sector to be affected, but thinks measures must be taken to prevent the island’s health system from collapsing.

“We want to avoid what is happening in El Paso, Texas; in Wisconsin, Spain, and France. We have to be more conservative [with measures in place to deal with the contagion]. The numbers are quite high,” Rodríguez Orengo told El Nuevo Día.

Dr. Víctor Ramos, president of the Puerto Rico College of Physicians and Surgeons, also said stricter measures should be in place, in an interview with WSKN-AM Thursday.

“The mandates should reflect an orange threat level,” Ramos said. “The last executive order was established in the context of a yellow alert—now we are certainly past yellow. If we continue like this, we’ll be way on our way to much higher levels.”

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Outbreaks in Hospitals

Besides the higher number of hospitalizations, some hospitals—mainly within the San Juan Metropolitan area—have reported COVID outbreaks.

According to Julio Irson, spokesperson for the College of Licensed Practical Nursing of Puerto Rico, Hospital San Francisco and Hospital Metropolitano, both located in San Juan, have each registered more than 20 COVID cases among its employees.

Irson explained the situation is similar at San Juan hospitals Auxilio Mutuo and Hospital de Psiquiatría General Doctor Ramón Fernández Marina, as well as the Hospital Metropolitano Dr. Susoni in the northwestern municipality of Arecibo.

Some health institutions have denied Irson’s statements.

“At this time, there is no COVID-19 outbreak, and we will continue to rigorously follow the CDC’s recommendations to prevent that from occurring,” said José Talavera, executive director of the Hospital Metropolitano. 

Irson, on his part, said nurses are most affected by the hospital contagion situation, which he says is worsening as staff members are required to be back at work 10 days after initially becoming sick.

“If we keep bringing infected personnel to work, the infections will continue,” Irson told El Nuevo Día.