Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Tourism workers on front line fight of Covid-19 in Puerto Rico

A sign on the door of Cueva Del Mar Restaurant in San Juan, Puerto Rico urges customers to use the hand sanitizer located at the host’s table. Photo by Shanila Kabir

With the coronavirus slashing airfares and spring breakers descending on Puerto Rico, the island that has recently survived a hurricane and earthquake, now has to worry about tourists carrying the deadly virus to the island.

And every business that deals with tourism are on the front lines of  the fight.

Fortaleza Suites in Old San Juan will not allow guests to put their belongings at the front desk. 

“We ask guests to have their IDs and wallets ready when they check in,” said Elizabeth Nolasco, 24, a receptionist at Fortaleza Suites. “We don’t let people take out their stuff and put it on the front desk while they search in their bag. If they need to open their bags, we ask them to do it outside.”

The hotel staff said they work for tourism, but they can’t sustain their business if the virus overwhelms the island. 

“This is more dangerous than the earthquake and Hurricane Maria,” said a hotel housekeeper as she scrubbed the floor on her hands and knees. 

La Fortaza Suites is a hotel in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photo by Shanila Kabir

The Dreamcatcher Hotel in San Juan changed their hospitality services to keep their employees and guests safe. 

“We used to have a communal space with lotion and sunscreen for our guests and we will never offer these services again,” said Andrea Otero, 24, manager of the Dreamcatcher Hotel. “We have improved our health measures on everything. The housekeepers work longer hours and we restock towels and kitchen supplies more often instead of reusing them.”

According to NBC News, three out of the five confirmed cases on the island were tourists.

“The virus will make its first steps here in a hotel,” said Otero. “People who are infected interact with other guests and the locals.”

She said the host position at the hotel has been discontinued.

“Our goal right now is to limit those numbers,” she said.

Jordan Acosta, 23, the chef at the Dreamcatcher who runs their vegetarian/vegan restaurant  created a new menu to try and strengthen the guests immune system. 

“Health precautions and dietary changes are two ways our hotel is combatting this,” said Acosta. “I only prepare meals that will boost people’s immune systems. In case one of our guests has the disease, the ginger and coconut in my food will make she/he healthier faster and that can save hundreds of lives.”

The Dreamcatcher Hotel has a vegetarian/vegan restaurant. Their new menu aims to boost guests immune system during the coronavirus outbreak. Photo by Shanila Kabir

 

Restaurant workers at Cueva Del Mar are requiring customers to sanitize their hands at the host’s table before being seated. 

“We sanitize everything, if it is not molded down, we deep clean it,” said Luis Sanchez-Longo, 24, a server at Cueva Del Mar “We used to have ketchup bottles at the table and now we serve sauces in small plastic cups. Small sanitation methods will make a difference. We even wash our menus before and after they’re used.”

Uber drivers are also taking precautions. Recently Uber  suspended its pool service.  Drivers are also  limiting contact with riders. 

“I don’t help anyone with their luggage,” said Goma Alberino, 27, an Uber driver. “I disinfect my car after each stop and ask passengers to grab one of my sanitizing wipes before getting in.”

Alberino has even declined giving rides to passengers that look sick.

“The slightest cough makes me turn down rides,” said Alberino. “I can’t take the risk of driving a sick person to an area with a sensitive population. This is a responsibility of anyone working during this time.”

There are about 200,000 cases of Coronavirus globally and  close to  8,000 deaths.

There are 17 potential cases of Covid-19 on the island.

Governor Wanda Vazquez implemented a 9 to 5 curfew Sunday and a two-week shutdown of most businesses until March 30. 

“This is bigger than me and my job, said John Santana, 25, a bartender at Acapulco Mexican Restaurant. “I know many people who are still recovering from the earthquake and now they have to worry about this new disease. I can go without money for two weeks if it means I’m helping anyone who needs to be protected.” 

Puerto Rico will survive this, he said.

“There will be always be visitors here. This is paradise,” said Santana. “But we have to do what it takes to make sure we are safe living in paradise.”

 


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