Governor aims to strike a ‘reasonable’ balance in next COVID-19 executive order
Does not favor curfew in its current form because ‘it attacks individual liberties’
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
With Executive Order 2020-083 reaching its deadline on Thursday, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said Monday he will declare a new one to tackle the coronavirus pandemic “starting on Jan. 8.”
Pierluisi said it was too soon for him to say which specific measures were to be included in the declaration because “there is an ongoing consultation process” with different sectors, such as the Scientific Coalition and “other affected sectors.” He said he wanted to be sure that the order would establish a “system that makes sense.”
Likewise, he stated that the next executive order should be one “that it is fair, that it is reasonable, that does not appear arbitrary, that when a shutdown is issued, it is justified that [infection] spreadings and hotspots have been identified in particular businesses and activities.”
“We have to be well measured, and we are going to do it very prudently and reasonably. What I anticipate is that safe changes are coming,” the governor said. “If I thought everything was perfectly fine, I wouldn’t say this. More of the same? No.”
When a member of the press asked the governor if he feels comfortable submitting a new order with the coronavirus strain B 1.1.7 closer to the island after a person who had not traveled was reported to be infected with the variant in Florida, he replied that the government did not have enough data even to justify extending the earlier decree, as such executive orders “impact the people of Puerto Rico and impact their quality of life.”
“Although health should be a priority, we can’t destine our people to poverty as poverty affects health, poverty even kills. You must have a balance in these things, and that’s what I am looking for,” Pierluisi said. “Don’t expect any big changes, but there are going to be some changes, and that’s because I have to respond to sectors of society that are demanding changes, and I’m going to do it in a responsible way.”
Meanwhile, he denied that his statements are to be seen simply as a move toward favoring the economic sector.
“I am speaking for the people’s well being,” the governor said. “I’m talking about the working people. I don’t wish unemployment on anyone. In fact, these unemployment benefits have a deadline. We cannot think that they will last in sæcula sæculorum [for ever and ever].”
Pierluisi acknowledged that he is not sympathetic regarding the current curfew because, he said, “it attacks individual liberties.”
“It is justified when you are in a state of war,” he said. “If I maintain it, it is not because I don’t want to [adjust it], but because the virus is with us 24/7. I want people to have freedom of movement. The curfew will be modified.”
As for fighting the coronavirus and its future variants, incoming island Health Secretary Carlos Mellado is said to be currently working along with Municipal Case Investigation and Contact Tracing System Director Fabiola Cruz and other epidemiologists in an effort to begin local coronavirus sequencing.
In addition, Puerto Rico National Guard Adj. Gen. José Juan Reyes noted the expansion of vaccination centers in municipalities such as Ponce, Guayanilla and Guánica in order to continue inoculating citizens against the coronavirus.
Vaccination efforts in the offshore island towns of Vieques and Culebra are also in the works, Reyes said, as both the National Guard and the Health Department look to vaccinate every citizen who is under the Phase 1 category, which focuses on medical personnel, first responders and essential workers.
At press time, the Puerto Rico Health Department announced in their daily report that 10 more people had died due to COVID-19 complications, raising the island death toll to 1,555 people since the pandemic began.