CDC advises travelers not to visit island as COVID cases rise

Says Puerto Rico is under very high infection level

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised travelers earlier this week not to visit Puerto Rico as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to rise on the island.

According to the CDC, the island is at “COVID-19 Level 4,” which the federal agency considers a very high level of infection.

“Travelers should avoid all travel,” read the CDC recommendation issued Tuesday. “If you must travel to Puerto Rico, get fully vaccinated before traveling. All travelers should wear a face mask, stay 6 feet away from others, avoid crowds, and wash hands.”

“If traveling by air, check to see if your airline requires medical information, test results or other documents. Follow entry requirements or restrictions at your destination, which may include testing, quarantine and providing contact information,” the CDC added. “Consult your destination’s territorial health department website for details on entry requirements and restrictions for arriving travelers. If you test positive upon arrival, you may be required to isolate yourself. You may be prevented from returning as scheduled.”

Meanwhile, the agency said travelers must “plan ahead and learn more about getting medical care while traveling” if they should become ill.

In an interview with the STAR on Wednesday, Puerto Rico Tourism Alliance spokesperson Daphne Barbeito said Puerto Rico is not a unique case as the island is under the aforementioned alert “along with 160 other countries.”

“Evidently, what should have happened when the CDC included us on that alert list previously [in November] was that every health and safety protocol on the island had to be re-evaluated to try to mitigate the situation and to show the country that the government has enforced their recommendations because the existing ones were not working,” Barbeito said. “If we were at a [COVID-19] Level 2 or Level 3 and went back to a Level 4, it means that what was being done was having no positive repercussion and earlier plans should have been checked, but that didn’t happen.”

“Even when COVID-19 cases dropped, the CDC still had the island at Level 4, but, of course, now that we went through Spring Break and Holy Week, we are seeing that cases are skyrocketing and the protocols remain the same at the airports,” the spokesperson said. “You know how Albert Einstein says that expecting different results [from] doing the same [thing] is the definition of insanity? We are pretending something different is happening while doing the same thing.”

Barbeito told the STAR that the government now must strengthen its surveillance and contact tracing system as she said they have remained unchanged since July.

“From the beginning, it was known that the mandatory quarantine for travelers was unlikely to happen. Why? Because, first of all, there’s no infrastructure to control people from leaving their residence or their lodging,” she said. “There has never been a contact tracing system; what we have has been a monitoring system. What the SARA Alert does is to ask travelers how are you feeling, but it does not have a rigorous level of identifying where you are located if you’re feeling unwell.”

She added that the government must be more demanding in requesting a negative COVID-19 test from travelers and that they be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The STAR contacted the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. to ask what the agency would be doing in light of the CDC travel warning. A spokesperson for the agency said at press time that the agency was working on further declarations.

Also on Wednesday, the Puerto Rico Health Department reported 67 confirmed, 153 probable and 83 suspicious cases of COVID-19.

As for fatalities due to COVID-19, two citizens from Caguas and one from Bayamón passed away, raising the coronavirus-related death toll on the island since the pandemic began to 2,139.

Also, 325 people were hospitalized due to coronavirus complications, 19 more than the agency reported hospitalized on Tuesday.