COVID-19 vaccination will be mandatory for eligible returning students

Health Dept.: Face masks will be required on school premises

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

The Puerto Rico Department of Health announced Thursday that it will be issuing an administrative order to establish a new COVID-19 protocol that requires students over 12 to inoculate against the coronavirus disease to go back to in-person instruction at schools and institutions of higher education.

During a press conference held in Guillermo Arbona Hall, Health Secretary Carlos Mellado López, along with Miguel Valencia Prado, deputy director of the COVID-19 Incident Command System Office, presented a guide with a nine-step procedure to prevent infections within educational premises, including the requirement to vaccinate against the disease that as of Thursday had cost the lives of 2,566 people in Puerto Rico.

“I think it is time for students to have the chance to receive education in a safe and adequate way,” said Mellado López, who later noted that people with immunocompromised conditions, who are allergic to vaccines or have other medical predispositions could be exempt from the administrative order.

The Health chief said the agency considered the recommendations established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the recent uptick in cases and hospitalizations in developing the guidelines that seek to prevent any situation that could lead schools to shut their doors again.

“We have data available that proves that most of the people who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or hospitalized are mostly unvaccinated residents,” he said. “We have enough information to prove how effective and how safe vaccines are.”

“We presume and know that most cases happening in Puerto Rico and the U.S. are due to the Delta variant,” Mellado López added. “We know too that vaccines are effective against the variant, that people who have been positive [for COVID-19] and got infected 14 days after achieving full vaccination had moderate symptoms; severe in regard to patients with comorbid conditions.”

Mellado López also announced that face masks will be mandatory within school premises to protect students from future infections.

“We must carry on creating an environment as if no one has ever been vaccinated against the coronavirus,” he said.

Valencia Prado said meanwhile that physical distancing for students inside classrooms will be less than 3 feet apart to guarantee adequate onsite teaching in both regular and special education classes.

However, he said, obligatory random COVID-19 testing, stricter physical distancing requirements, and the mandatory use of face masks outdoors for every school member, independent of their vaccination status, will be implemented to guarantee that “every student returns to school.”

Valencia Prado also said that “despite careful planning and consistent implementation of prevention strategies, there will be situations in which the temporary closure of a school or part of a school, such as a class or a grade level, may be recommended.”

“These decisions will be made in conjunction with the Department of Education, after careful consideration of various factors and with an emphasis on ensuring the health and well being of students, their families, teachers, and school personnel,” he said.

Therefore, the deputy chief urged both public and private schools to make every effort to continue classes through remote learning in case of a confirmed coronavirus case and to register every member of the school community in the BioPortal.

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