Expert: COVID-19 infections higher in enclosed spaces, not family gatherings

By John McPhaul

Epidemiologist Fabiola Cruz said Thursday in a radio interview that most COVID-19 infections occur in enclosed spaces, such as indoor workplaces and malls, and not in family gatherings, as other experts have said recently.

Asked whether infections are spreading mostly in family gatherings, Cruz answered that “at other times they have been more associated with family gatherings.”

“When we present the percentages, these are [rates] of outbreaks,” she said. “But in this report outbreaks [traced to family gatherings] only represent five percent of cases.”

“In family activities, we only have 282 related cases associated with outbreaks in family activities,” Cruz added. “However, we have 2,300 cases associated with exposures in indoor jobs, 1,300 in shopping malls and 1,200 in restaurants.”

The epidemiologist stressed that “[e]nclosed spaces are still the ones with the highest risk.”

“Because we see that [COVID] positive people have visited those places,” she said. “We have to work with this, restrict the spaces a little, even for a period of two weeks to see if we can stop the increase and begin to reduce transmission levels.”

Regarding closures, Cruz said that “at least at this time, I cannot support a total closure if we have all the tools.”

“We are going to have to take some restrictions that are significant,” he said. “It is not about adding hours to the curfew, it is about doing more.”

“It really is worrying,” she said.

At press time, governor Pedro Pierluisi announced new restrictions on a new Executive Order to address the pandemic. The EO takes effect Saturday,

“Hospitalizations have increased. Then it is [next] that the deaths begin to be reflected. It is the natural history of the disease,” the epidemiologist said. “This does not go on at the same time. So this is a very critical moment. And it has happened to other countries.”

“In Chile it is also happening despite the fact that they have mounted spectacular vaccination efforts,” Cruz noted. “And it is because we have to understand that vaccination is a public health measure. At the population level. When the population has that herd immunity, when most of us are protected, then we are going to see significant changes. Although we are already seeing some spectacular changes thanks to vaccination.”

“Seventy-five percent of the population [in Puerto Rico] is susceptible. Some 600,000 are vaccinated, but on the other hand 75 percent of the population is not,” she pointed out. “That allows room for the virus to find a person who does not have protection more quickly, with greater opportunity.”

Regarding minors who have been infected with COVID-19, Cruz said that is “due to the fact that we are struggling with a variant, with a virus that is not the same as last year.”

“It is a much stronger virus. That it can be transmitted faster, up to 70 percent faster, this is very dangerous,” she said. “What used to take a month now takes a few days. And it has the ability to cause more severe disease.”

“Increase that risk for those with chronic diseases. The ages go down. And it is a bigger challenge for the immune system,” the epidemiologist said. “We are seeing the impact in terms of hospitalizations as well. Those ages went down. Deaths have dropped [from older to younger] in terms of age.”

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