• The Star Staff

Governor announces ‘minimal changes’ in new executive order to control coronavirus pandemic

Guarantees strategies to better inform tourists on COVID-19 restrictions and rules of conduct

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

With islanders expressing concern and complaints through social networks about the behavior demonstrated by tourists visiting Puerto Rico in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia responded Thursday to questions from the STAR, saying he has met with both Puerto Rico Tourism Co. Director Carlos Mercado and Destination Marketing Organization Director Brad Dean to develop strategies for better informing tourists about the rules and regulations established on the island to control the pandemic.

During a virtual press conference in which Pierluisi announced the updated executive order that goes into effect Monday and remains in place until Saturday, April 11, he said he addressed the issue earlier with both officials as they “will be in communication with hotels, inns and lodgings to, once again, ensure tourists are properly informed.”

“The same thing can be done with online marketplaces used to rent properties in Puerto Rico, to alert them that they have to disseminate what the rules of behavior are that we are establishing by way of this executive order,” the governor said. “[The order] applies to everyone equally. Here no one can think that they are ‘sacred cows.’ Here the order applies to everyone on equal terms.”

Meanwhile, as for mitigating cases of crowding during the coronavirus pandemic, Public Safety Secretary-designate Alexis Torres said the department’s current plans for enforcing the decree are to keep contact with municipal police stations, mayors, and the island Health Department to take action against breaches as soon as possible.

As for San Juan, Puerto Rico Police Bureau Commissioner Antonio López said he is currently “in contact with Col. Juan García to work together on the areas that have been highlighted by the press and social media outlets.”

López added that “through the Human Relations Division, the Police will be providing information to business owners to in turn inform tourists on how to comply with the executive order.”

The police commissioner also told the STAR that he is in communication with capital city authorities about maintaining surveillance in locations such as La Placita de Santurce and La Perla in Old San Juan “so things run as they should.”

Regarding the executive order, in addition to telling members of the press on Wednesday not to expect “major changes” in the latest version, Pierluisi announced that restaurants and movie theaters will be authorized to expand operating capacity to 50%.

In the current executive order, those commercial establishments are authorized to operate at only 30% capacity.

Moreover, Pierluisi said live performance theaters will now be authorized to operate at 30% capacity “to begin opening up cultural activities during the pandemic.”

However, the governor said that “theaters will be subject to compliance with a protocol approved by the Health Department.”

The new decree will also limit the need to request waivers from the Department of State for small activities at locations that are already restricted in the executive order in terms of occupancy capacity.

In other words, small activities may be held as long as they comply with the venue’s COVID-19 safety protocols, which include a limit on occupancy capacity, and a list of attendees and their contact information for tracing purposes.

Aside from this, visits to elderly care centers, long-term care facilities, and prison institutions, including juvenile institutions, will be authorized in compliance with the protocols approved by the Health Department.

Moreover, Head Start, Early Head Start, and child care centers are authorized for “a controlled reopening” to ensure the safety of children and staff members.

To that end, the centers must follow the plans that the Family Department, through its Licensing Office and the Administration for the Comprehensive Care and Development of Children, develops in coordination with the Health Department.

Likewise, the order allows the mayors of Vieques and Culebra to decide on the maritime transportation of tourists to those offshore island municipalities “after more than 60 percent of the population of both islands has already been vaccinated, at least with the first dose.”

Meanwhile, curfew remains from 12 a.m. until 5 a.m. and commercial establishments and restaurants can remain open until 11 p.m.

Bars, coliseums and larger event venues will not be authorized under the new order, however.

Physical distancing and the mandatory use of face masks in commercial establishments remain in effect.

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