[Many thanks to Nalini Natarajan for bringing this item to our attention.] In “Puerto Rico enacted strict Covid measures. It paid off, and it’s a lesson for the mainland,” Nicole Acevedo (NBC News) writes, “Puerto Rico used curfews and rigorous sanitary measures, ‘and the pandemic was never politicized,’ a health expert said. It saved lives — and its health care system.”
Janny Rodriguez, 47, a community leader in the neighborhood of Barreal in Peñuelas, Puerto Rico, is an operations supervisor at an asphalt plant. During the height of the pandemic last March, he couldn’t stop working, since he’s one of a few workers tasked with maintaining the composite material liquid.
The father of three was worried about potentially exposing his oldest son to the virus, since he suffers from a lung condition, or his elderly mother who lives next door to him. After all, the World Health Organization had just declared Covid-19 a pandemic.
Rodriguez and his colleagues wore masks, kept their social distance, lived through stringent curfews and had their temperature checked and their hands and shopping carts cleaned every time they went into a supermarket or drug store.
A year into the pandemic, his fears of Covid-19 haven’t come true. So far, neither his children nor mother have been infected with the virus. In fact, no one in his neighborhood, which is home to roughly 200 families, has been infected, Rodriguez said.
Puerto Ricans in the U.S. territory avoided overwhelming their already fragile health care system during the pandemic, mainly because of extraordinary measures the local government put in place early on — and people’s willingness to comply with them.
“In Puerto Rico, the pandemic was never politicized,” said Daniel Colón-Ramos, professor of cellular neuroscience at Yale University and president of Puerto Rico’s Scientific Coalition, a group of experts advising Gov. Pedro Pierluisi on the island’s Covid-19 response. “People were really rowing in the same direction.”
Since the start of the pandemic, at least 94,336 Covid-19 cases have been confirmed in Puerto Rico, an island of 3.2 million. The virus has killed at least 2,073 people in the island so far.
However, Puerto Rico has not seen an uptick in cases since December, even following big holidays such as Christmas, New Year’s Day and Three Kings Day. The lowest positivity rate was reported in February (5.2 percent) since Covid-19 deaths rose around Thanksgiving.
With the Covid-19 vaccine rollout underway, Puerto Rico is now on track to fully immunize two of its municipalities: Vieques and Culebra, both smaller islands off the coast of Puerto Rico. [. . .]
In a drastic effort to limit crowds, Puerto Rico was among the first U.S. jurisdictions to implement an islandwide curfew last March that asked people not to leave their homes after nighttime. Nonessential businesses were shut down. All schools closed down and cruise ships were banned from docking on the island.
Puerto Rico went on lockdown the following month while the curfew was still in place. Puerto Ricans had to stay home at all times. If they left, it could only be for essential purposes and they had to be back home before the nighttime curfew.
Puerto Rico was also among the first U.S. jurisdictions to issue a mask mandate, alongside New Jersey.
“Most people don’t leave the house without first grabbing their phones. Now, people grab their face masks first and then their phones,” Rodriguez said in Spanish. [. . .]
Critics pointed out that officials were putting drastic restrictions in place without having enough scientific information to back their decisions. Puerto Rico had the lowest per-capita testing rate compared with any state at the beginning of the pandemic and lacked an islandwide contact tracing system.
But they knew one fact: Puerto Rico was relying on a few physicians to bear the brunt of the pandemic, according to a report from the Urban Institute, mainly due to a decade of a massive exodus of doctors to the mainland U.S. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, 72 of the island’s 78 municipalities are considered to be medically underserved and face “unmet health care needs.”
To some extent, Colón-Ramos said he wonders if the experience with Hurricane Maria, one of the deadliest U.S.-based natural disasters in 100 years, which led to the deaths of at least 2,975 people in 2017, contributed to an overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans taking Covid-19 restrictions seriously. [. . .]
Currently, Puerto Ricans are not allowed to leave their homes after midnight. The curfew has changed over time depending on the number of new Covid-19 cases being reported on the island, making it the longest pandemic-related curfew of any U.S. jurisdiction.
Most businesses are now operating at 50 percent capacity — except bars, night clubs and stadiums, which still remain closed. Shopping malls are open but only allow one person per 75 square feet.
Ninety-six of Puerto Rico’s 858 public schools reopened for the first time Wednesday, exactly one year since the pandemic hit, with restrictions. Starting on Monday, children in Head Start programs will be able to return to class.
Since Covid-19 hospitalizations have gone down so dramatically, most patients currently in intensive care are those with chronic conditions whose care was interrupted amid the pandemic, not people with Covid-19, Ramos said. [. . .]
[Photo above by Ramon Zayas / GDA via AP: A student wears a mask at a school in Cayey, Puerto Rico, on March 4, 2021.]