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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Amid virus resurgence, Scientific Coalition urges continued use of masks, vaccinations & boosters

Amid a rise in infections driven by a resurgence of the omicron variant, the Scientific Coalition of Puerto Rico urges the public to wear masks and get vaccinated.

By The Star Staff

The Scientific Coalition of Puerto Rico, appointed by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia, presented recommendations on Wednesday to curb the spread of COVID-19 amid a 27.4 percent positivity rate and an average of 4,500 new cases per day.

“During this rebound of the omicron variant, predominantly tied to the BA.2.12 sublineage, we have experienced the longest infection curve since the beginning of the pandemic in Puerto Rico, 60 days of sustained increase in cases,” said Kenira Thompson, co-president of the group of scientists, said in a written communication.

The coalition urged the public to wear masks and get vaccinated.

While the vaccines protect against the omicron variant, coalition members emphasize that mutations in that variant decrease the effectiveness of previous biomedical strategies, such as the use of monoclonal antibodies, and urge the public to get vaccination boosters.

“After reviewing the literature and data, we are convinced that despite this uptick, and in part due to public health measures and the emphasis on vaccination with booster doses, we have not observed sudden increases in deaths,” Thompson said. “However, it is worrying that 387 hospitalized people are being reported, as this surpasses the threshold of 300 hospitalizations, previously established as a point to consider resuming restrictive measures.”

Using the definition of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for transmission at the community level, data on hospitalizations and incidence by geographic areas (municipalities), Puerto Rico ranks at the moderate level. The highest number of cases and incidence have been detected in school environments, which reflects the importance of retaining the integrated school surveillance system, the scientists said.

The Scientific Coalition has evaluated recent literature as well as CDC recommendations in the context of data from Puerto Rico, positivity rates, cases, hospitalizations, deaths, percent of population with partial or full dose of vaccines, and the ascending pattern of the positivity rate.

Considering all those indicators, “we recommend the use of masks in closed spaces that offer service to the public. In open spaces, the use of masks will not be recommended except for large events,” said Dr. Marcos López Casillas, a member of the coalition.

It will be the choice of people to use the mask or not in open spaces. The use of masks is recommended under any of the three levels for public transportation such as: airports, seaports, Urban Train, buses (AMA), taxis, public cars and Uber. The use of masks must continue as a requirement in the following facilities: long-term care facilities, facilities for populations living in groups (correctional facilities, shelters), and health and education facilities.

In crowded events or places with more than 1,000 people in closed spaces, evidence of vaccination and use of masks is recommended. For events in open spaces, in the event that physical distancing between family groups cannot be ensured, the use of masks during the event is recommended. Outdoor events of more than 500 people must be evaluated by the Department of Health.

“As for the quarantine and isolation measures, we understand that the Department of Health’s Guide to Investigation and Contact Tracing for COVID-19 or any of its guides for specialized surveillance of COVID-19 must remain, which determine the period of quarantine,” López Casillas added.

Also recommended was the establishment of clear and concise guidelines prior to the start of summer camps to prevent outbreaks from spreading during this period, which could interrupt the start of the next school year in August.

The coalition also recommended reinforcing education and the vaccination process for people who should receive booster shots.

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