• The Star Staff

Drop in COVID cases in PR due to people having ‘lowered their guard’ with testing, Health chief says

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

Health Secretary-designate Carlos Mellado López said Monday that the island Health Department will conduct more molecular tests and ease restrictions on COVID-19 testing at laboratories and drugstores, as he acknowledged that the number of coronavirus infections in Puerto Rico has shown a decrease because people have “let their guard down” when it comes to getting tested.

“What happens is that every week we do it here, practically every day we do COVIVEO activities in all the municipalities of the island,” Mellado López told members of the press. “We have already done more than 200,000 tests in all of Puerto Rico. However, there has been a decrease in the number of people getting tested and I have to say that.”

“I just think that by having the vaccine as a specific focus, they [citizens] have lowered their guard,” he added.

At the same time, the Health Secretary-designate pointed out, “there has been a decrease in the number of cases in hospitals, in intensive care and the number of fatalities.”

Mellado López also noted that confirmed COVID-19 cases that are accounted for and included in statistics come from molecular tests, not antigen tests.

For his part, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia said that despite President Joe Biden’s pronouncements on achieving herd immunity by the end of May, the island will achieve herd immunity “by the end of the summer.”

“Hopefully it will happen, but Puerto Rico is included,” the governor said. “We are receiving the number of vaccines that corresponds to our population. If the number of vaccines increases exponentially, we could achieve the vaccination of the majority of adults by May.”

“But being conservative, I am sure that by the end of this summer, no matter what happens, we will have achieved herd immunity,” Pierluisi added.

The governor made his statements during a press conference at the Governor Pedro Rosselló Convention Center in Miramar, as the Health Department announced that, in collaboration with the Puerto Rico Innovation and Technology Services (PRITS) office, it has hired around 300 people to work at the VacuCenter data center to expedite data entry from people who have been administered with the coronavirus vaccine.

Pierluisi said the VacuCenter seeks to enter 10,000 information sheets daily for patients who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus and to update the data on the web page established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Between March 8 and March 14, data from more than 20,000 people were entered into the online portal, and in anticipation of the increase in the volume of registrations following the arrival of more vaccines …, we are being proactive in this effort in conjunction with the Department of Health and PRITS,” the governor said. “The goal is to end the information backlog and then proceed with the data entry for the sheets that are generated daily.”

Meanwhile, Mellado López said the project “has an army of people [working on] the vaccine administration data entry to be in a better position with the federal government and prove how effective we have been with vaccine administration.”

For his part, PRITS Executive Director Enrique Völckers Nin said the convention center has been enabled into a “massive data entry” center consisting of 300 modules and 300 computers “with a secure network and with the necessary redundancy to maintain a constant data flow with the system.”