‘First thing to open, last thing to shut down’

Scientific Coalition member calls for COVID vaccinations for students 12 and up, urges schools to follow Health Dept. safety protocols

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue increasing on the island, a member of the Puerto Rico Scientific Coalition is calling for schools to enforce the Health Department’s nine-step protocol, which includes mandatory vaccination of eligible students and face masks for everyone, in order for on-site teaching to remain in place.

In an interview with The STAR, Dr. Víctor Ramos said Sunday that the protocol designed by COVID-19 Incident Command System Office Deputy Director Miguel Valencia has been greenlit by both the coalition created by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urruita and local pediatric entities that have deemed the return to in-person instruction necessary.

“It is important that the cases that arise, because there are going to be cases, we have to identify them and locate their contacts,” said Ramos, the president of the island Physicians & Surgeons Association. “If it is necessary to close a classroom, it will be closed; if it is necessary to close a school, it will be closed, but as the American Academy of Pediatrics has said all along, and what the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and other organizations are now saying: the first thing to open is schools, the last thing to shut down is schools.”

“Schools have to follow the protocol, parents have to follow the protocols, which includes vaccinating children over the age of 12 and getting vaccinated themselves to protect the children, their family, and the country,” Ramos added.

When asked if physical distancing inside classrooms will be at least 3 feet between students and will remain in effect, the Scientific Coalition member said the CDC recently recommended that students must be three feet apart from each other during on-site teaching.

He also said the CDC recommended that students not wear face coverings inside classrooms; however, the federal entity reversed that recommendation amid pressure from educational and pediatric organizations.

“The CDC doesn’t have the serialized tests on their platform,” the pediatrician said. “The reduction in distancing is not going to happen when [students] are eating; when they are eating, they have to be more than six feet away [from each other].”

On the question of how to combat continuing resistance to coronavirus inoculation in the midst of the latest wave of infections driven by the delta variant, Ramos said that apart from resistance, vaccination “is not a priority.”

“[Vaccination] should be a priority among 20-to-29-year-olds because they are the ones who have young children, and they should be the first to go [to a vaccine provider],” he said. “They are also the ones who are attending large gatherings, and there is no easy answer here because young people have lost respect for the virus.”

“If you plan to be in large gatherings, go and get vaccinated,” Ramos added. “You [as a parent] have to model it to your kids because kids are the patients who follow instructions the best; if parents use face masks, practice physical distancing and wash their hands, the children will follow suit.”

Meanwhile, Ramos added that although there is an uptick in COVID cases and hospitalizations, hospitalizations “remain at half of what we are supposed to have with the number of cases we have.”

“This is proving to us that vaccines are doing their job,” he said.

“The virus is really bad, but it has become predictable; when vaccines did not exist, we knew that when a case rebound happened, we could predict that, in two weeks, we could have an average number of hospitalizations and deaths,” Ramos added. “That linear prediction we did when vaccines did not exist is not the same as the prediction we conduct today now that vaccines exist.”

The pediatrician also told the STAR that critical rebounds that are happening in U.S. states like Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Kansas and Missouri are “because vaccination rates are low.”

A report released Sunday by the Puerto Rico Community Health Coalition indicated 598 confirmed and 294 probable cases. Five more deaths due to COVID-19 were also reported.

According to the coalition, 60-to-69-year-old islanders are dying from the coronavirus.

Regarding case distribution, the populations with more confirmed cases are 40-to-59-year-old, 20-to-29-year-old, and 30-to-39-year-old islanders, respectively.

At press time, the COVID-19 positivity rate in Puerto Rico was around 10.7%.

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