Governor issues month-long executive order to tackle COVID-19 pandemic
Earlier curfew, dry law on weekends, and full lockdown on Sundays go into effect starting Monday
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
“People of Puerto Rico, characterized by showing affection and joy, we have to pause mainly to save our old people,” Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced said Thursday as she announced an executive order that will take effect starting Monday and conclude on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, and which will include changes to the curfew hours, 24-hour lockdowns on Sundays and “dry law” measures during weekends to stem the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Puerto Rico.
The governor said several factors, including the exhaustion of first responders, claims from various mayors, and the behavior of “those who on the streets do not demonstrate [awareness of] the importance of what this pandemic represents” led to the stricter measures.
“What was stated before shows to the Puerto Rican people that there’s no other way to reach a consensus; if there’s no compliance or enforcement, we face a rise [in coronavirus infections] and we put our hospital institutions in peril,” Vázquez said. “What’s next is a full lockdown. It’s as simple as that.”
As for the changes in the new order, the governor said the curfew in Puerto Rico will be from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday, although authorized establishments are ordered to close at 8:30 p.m., except pharmacies, which will remain open until 11 p.m. for medicine dispensing only, and restaurants, which can provide delivery services until 11 p.m.
Vázquez also warned megastores to take note and “respect the executive order.”
“We will know if they sell televisions, if they sell clothes, because it will be registered in SURI,” she stressed, using the Spanish acronym for the Internal Revenue Integrated System. “If we have evidence at SURI, that megastore will be closed. We don’t want any arguments later that there is unequal treatment.”
The governor ordered that on Sundays all citizens will remain in their place of residence or lodging for 24 hours, except for going to the stores and services authorized by the decree, such as pharmacies, supermarkets, gas stations and hardware stores. As for restaurants and fast-food enterprises, they will only serve via drive-thru, carry-out, or curbside pick-up on this day.
As for the dry law, the governor said that “from Saturday at 5 a.m. until Monday at 5 a.m, there will be a ban on the sale, consumption, and distribution of alcoholic beverages,” restaurants included.
Vázquez also scolded mall administrators over Black Friday sales, where pictures posted on social media showed crowds of people in the establishments’ hallways, something she deemed unacceptable because “they weren’t enforcing capacity restrictions of one person per 75 square feet.”
“It shouldn’t have happened at any time,” she said as she announced that malls will remain as an authorized establishment, although she demanded that oversight agencies “keep an eye on the establishments to enforce the executive order.”
“Economic interests should not overcome people’s welfare,” she insisted.
As for requests made by the island’s mayors, the governor said that by the powers delegated to them under Law No. 107-2020, known as the Municipal Code of Puerto Rico, they are authorized to reinforce their inspection plans in their jurisdictions to ensure compliance with the executive order.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Lorenzo González Feliciano said the new executive order “has some significant changes meant to provide breathing room for Puerto Rico’s public health system.”
“We have a health system, and I talk about people, not the structure, I talk about human beings, physicians, nurses, medical technicians, the same group of professionals that have served and given their lives since the pandemic began in March,” González Feliciano said, emphasizing that the efforts promoted in the new order come with the expectation of reducing the number of deaths due to the coronavirus.
He said the recent COVID-19 case numbers “still do not [reflect] cases from Thanksgiving or Black Friday.”
“We’re still facing the impact caused by the general elections; these [current] numbers can reach a more drastic level once those cases begin to emerge,” González Feliciano said.
Below the Star lists other measures issued in the new executive order:
* Common areas and pools in condominiums will remain closed
* Urbanization (community) gyms can be opened with appointment protocol or supervision
* Private gyms remain open with a 30 percent occupancy restriction
* Marinas will remain closed
* Religious services will continue on Sundays with a 30 percent
* Casinos and movie theaters remain open with a 30 percent
* Use of boats is suspended, only individual water sports can
* Hotel common areas must be supervised to remain open; hotel guests must stay inside their rooms after 9 p.m.
* Restaurant bars remain closed
* Roadside stands, snack bars, and bars remain closed
* Citizens can attend beaches with face masks and physical distancing for exercise within the hours authorized in the order
* Coolers and beach chairs are not permitted on beaches
* No mass activities are allowed indoors or outdoors
* Visits to senior centers or nursing homes are prohibited
* Visits to correctional institutions are prohibited
* Party buses are prohibited
* Due to guideline changes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests are not necessary for an employee to return to work if they comply with a 14-day quarantine after having a confirmed COVID-19 case.
The governor said the new order urges every authorized establishment to put up a poster that includes a COVID-19 hotline, which is (787) 522-6300, extensions: 6899, 6840, 6824, 6833, to “confidentially submit complaints and cooperate with the authorities to enforce the order.”
Judicial branch keeps operations in ‘Phase 2’ to prevent virus infections Earlier Thursday, the island judicial branch announced that operations will remain limited according to their reopening plan’s second phase.
Courts Administrative Director Sigfrido Steidel Figueroa said that in Phase 2, on-site activities will be limited and the branch will promote managing any affairs via videoconference.
Likewise, hours of operation remain from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m, with up to 50 percent of personnel.
“The second operation phase of the Judicial Branch’s Reopening Plan is compatible with the amendments incorporated into the Executive Order that takes effect on Monday, December 7,” Steidel Figueroa said in a written statement. “However, we have reiterated to the Administrative Judges of the judicial regions the importance of continuing to be rigorous in observing hygiene and physical distancing measures.”
The administrative director also noted that since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the judicial branch put into effect rigorous measures of social distancing and public control, as well as numerous prevention measures such as the use of masks at all times, the continuous sanitization of work areas, and attending to various matters by e-mail and videoconferences.
Steidel Figueroa added that the judicial branch modified its partial closure plan to add Dec. 28-30, and Jan. 7-8, 2021.
“With this measure, court operations will be substantially reduced between December 21, 2020, and January 8, 2021, limiting the exposure of staff and citizens to possible infections during this critical period,” he said. “The evaluation of judicial work is continuous. We remain vigilant to the pandemic’s development and will continue to provide services on a limited basis without putting our staff and citizens at risk.”