Executive order requiring travelers to provide negative COVID-19 test result goes into effect
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
As Executive Order 2020-052 comes into force today, which instructs every passenger who comes to Puerto Rico to arrive with a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result less than 72 hours old and a travel declaration form, the government still does not have a clear plan of execution.
Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced said every passenger, from today, must log onto the Aerostar website, where an option will be available to fill out an application that, when submitted, will be sent to the island Health Department. Vázquez said the initiative has been a joint effort between the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. (PRTC), the Health Department, the Puerto Rico National Guard and the aforementioned airport management company.
“There’s an app that is available at the Aerostar website, and it’s the same one that, through Tourism, is sent to all airlines so travelers fill out the application. There should be no doubt in coming to Puerto Rico, the executive order is clear enough: if you come to Puerto Rico, you must have a negative COVID-19 test result within the past 72 hours. If you don’t have it, as the Health secretary said, don’t come,” the governor said. “The information that is submitted to the Aerostar app will be sent back to the Health Department. We are working hard so that it starts today [Tuesday]; if it is not ready, we hope it is available tomorrow [today]. Each traveler will be asked if they have a negative COVID-19 test and if they successfully submitted all the required information, they can come to Puerto Rico.”
However, PRTC Executive Director Carla Campos said the protocol is being led by the Health Department, with “narrow collaboration” from the PRTC, Aerostar and the National Guard. The digital component that includes the Online Travel Declaration and its interconnection with the Health Department’s Bio Portal and the traveler’s surveillance system was uploaded at midnight.
“On the other hand, the PRTC has informed airline partners about the new protocol and, furthermore, it has been reported to Discover Puerto Rico, the entity in charge of visitors’ communication, about the details so the message is integrated with outside marketing efforts,” Campos said.
The Star investigated how to fill out the travel declaration that has been ordered for all who would travel to Puerto Rico. The Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport’s website https://www.sjuinsider.com only offers information about the security and monitoring measures they have put into effect during the coronavirus pandemic. However, according to a letter from the PRTC sent to airline partners on June 12, travelers had to log on to http://travelsafe.pr.gov/ or http://www.viajaseguro.pr.gov/ in order to acknowledge the travel requirements under the new executive order. At press time, the latter one has a 403 Forbidden error, as there is no permission to access the server.
“Travel Safe! Official information from the Government of Puerto Rico about guidance, mandates and advisories applicable to anyone traveling to Puerto Rico. As a U.S. jurisdiction, travelers must observe national health guidance, as per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (link to cdc.gov), in addition to local protocols,” the website says. “While traveling in Puerto Rico you must: Be tested and self-isolate if you get sick or develop COVID-19 symptoms, Wear a mask or face covering at all times in public, Wash your hands frequently and wipe down high-touch surfaces, Practice social distancing, Minimize and keep track of interactions with others and the places that you visit.”
Once inside http://travelsafe.pr.gov/, every traveller must scroll down and click on the “Online Travel Declaration” option and fill out the application. The declaration asks for name, sex, phone number, e-mail address, passport or license number, if you own a residence or will be lodging, physical direction, if you have children younger than 18 years travelling and if there has been contact with anyone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days. Once you fill out the contact information, you must complete the test result application.
“Every traveler, visitor or resident arriving in Puerto Rico must comply with a mandatory quarantine period for 14 days, unless it complies with one of the following categories,” the website says.
The first category confirms that the traveler had a molecular test in a period of 72 hours or less before traveling to Puerto Rico; if the option is selected, it is required to submit date and time of the test, laboratory name, laboratory phone number and asked if you were informed about the results.
The second category confirms that the traveler will take the molecular test in an authorized facility on the island, while the third category confirms the visitor will comply with the mandatory quarantine.
“Any person who provides false information in a public document with the purpose of defrauding the Department of Health and interfering with their duty to care for citizens, may be punished with a 3-year prison sentence for violating Article 212 of the Penal Code of Puerto Rico. In addition, [violators] will be committing a misdemeanor in violation of Article 246, by obstructing the exercise of authority by preventing a public official or employee from fulfilling any of the duties of his office,” the website says. “Travelers will be registered in the Department of Health’s Traveler Surveillance System (SARA Alert). They will receive for a period of 14 days, automated daily messages, either by text, email or phone call, about their health status. They must answer the SARA Alert questions every day; if they do not, they are exposed to a violation of the executive order, which establishes these controls at the airports.
The information provided is for the exclusive use of the Puerto Rico Department of Health and its associates, for the prevention, follow-up and treatment of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 or other infectious diseases, as per HIPAA Law (45 CFR 164.502 (e) (2)).”
Once the traveler finishes the online travel declaration, they must arrive at the airport with the declaration and negative COVID-19 test result in hand for validation.