Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced last night announced plans to ease Puerto Rico’s nearly two-month long coronavirus lockdown and partially reactivate the economy by allowing several sectors, including finance and real estate, to reopen starting May 4.
Businesses will be required to provide protective equipment to their employees and to establish occupational safety measures, in accordance with the guidelines of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“This is about establishing an agenda that allows us a gradual transition within the quarantine to gradually reactivate those activities that, without neglecting protection measures and maintaining physical distancing, represent low risk of contagion for Puerto Rico,” said Vázquez Garced during a televised message.
As countries and states consider lifting restrictions, the World Health Organization recommended that “health system capacities are in place to detect, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact.” But the U.S. territory, as of last week, had the lowest coronavirus testing rate in the country, performing an average of 15 tests a day for every 100,000 people.
Vázquez Garced said the plan to reopen the economy was approved by the medical and economic task forces, but did not mention if the island has reported a downward trajectory of cases or positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period as established by White House guidelines.
Secretary of Health Lorenzo González Feliciano has said the island expects to reach its apex between May 4 and 8, when the new executive order goes into effect. He acknowledged yesterday that there have been problems tracing passengers that arrive to the island through its main airport.
Puerto Rico has been on lockdown and under an overnight curfew since March 15 to contain the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The island’s Department of Health has reported 1,539 cases and 92 deaths as of Thursday.
Vázquez Garced said she will extend the 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew until May 25. People should only leave their house for essential services like medical appointments, grocery shopping and visits to the pharmacy, and they must wear masks when they go outside. But the new executive order will allow citizens to walk dogs, run, ride bicycles and perform other activities outside from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m., maintaining at least six feet apart between each person.
Starting next Monday, lawyers, engineers and accountants can reopen their offices, working with one client at a time and by appointments, and dentists, optometrists, can provide services again. Doctors and mental health professionals can continue to use telemedicine, but will now have the option to see patients in their offices. Meanwhile, moving, laundry, transportation, limited to taxi drivers and public carriers, financial, mortgage, insurance, real estate notary services will be allowed to reopen.
Services in hardware stores, maintenance, repair, inspection and sale of vehicle parts can open from Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., following preventive measures and working by appointment.
Pharmacies and gas stations will continue to operate regularly seven days a week, and supermarkets and grocery stores will open from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., allowing delivery services until 10 p.m., as established in previous executive orders.
On May 11, construction and manufacturing industries can begin to operate again. Employers, in these cases, must develop specific plans to prevent infections and issue compliance certifications to the Department of Labor and Human Resources.
Vázquez Garced said she will evaluate the possibility of reopening retailers, barber shops, beauty salons, restaurants, among other businesses, between May 18 and 25.
“Little by little we are going to continue evaluating the reactivation of the economic movement, with mechanisms that allow the operation of more industries and services,” Vázquez Garced said. “But the health of all the families that live in this land is the priority.”