Governor mulls fewer restrictions in next COVID-related executive order
Sees ‘inconsistencies’ in coronavirus monitoring data
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia said Tuesday that he is considering easing restrictions in the next executive order addressing the coronavirus pandemic “if the scientific data allows it.”
Speaking to members of the Puerto Rico Restaurant Association at the Dr. Pedro Rosselló Convention Center in Miramar, he said “there’s a glimmer of hope” for a less strict order as recent numbers from the island Health Department have shown a reduction in COVID hospitalizations.
Earlier this week the agency reported 312 hospitalizations, in comparison to 657 hospitalizations reported in December.
“As for infections, it’s somewhat interesting; what they [the Health Department] call the positivity rate, the reported rate still remains at around nine or ten [percent],” Pierluisi said. “However, that data appears to be inconsistent with what’s happening in the mass testing campaigns in different parts of the island.”
“When we conduct mass testing across the island, and I’m talking about thousands of tests, the positivity rate we see is around 1.5%, and I’m keeping an eye on this data, because I see an inconsistency here,” the governor added.
Meanwhile, even though Pierluisi reiterated his disdain for the curfew decreed by the current executive order because “it restricts and violates individual freedom,” he stated that “we are still facing a pandemic never before seen for a century, at least.”
“The curfew has its purpose, and it is for people to stay at home as much as possible unless they have to go to work, run essential errands, or in your case, go to a restaurant,” he said.
“The curfew seeks to encourage people to return to their homes [after hours] and prevent crowding that, on the streets or in commercial establishments, promotes more infections.”
When members of the press asked what measures were being considered for the next executive order, Pierluisi said that, for example, ordering restaurant tables to be six feet apart from each other “regardless of occupancy rates” and allowing businesses to extend hours of operation are under evaluation.
Nonetheless, he reiterated that it all depends on the numbers that the Health Department reports before Feb. 7, when the current executive order expires.
Federal minimum wage increase is ‘an incentive for people to start working’
As for the increase in the minimum wage to $15 that President Joe Biden seeks in his coronavirus stimulus package proposal, Pierluisi said he favors it because “$7.25 is really not enough to live on based on the cost of living.”
Island business leaders have raised concerns about the proposed minimum wage hike, alleging businesses can’t sustain it.
“I know that this is a substantial leap,” he said, noting that both he and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón would advocate for the island to be included in commercial tax incentives if the U.S. Congress passes the stimulus package.
“If we continue paying $7.25 [per hour] here and Texas pays $15, what do you think is going to happen? Half the world is going to ride the air bus,” he added. “People don’t end up working when they see that they can get more money through unemployment benefits.
Increasing the minimum wage would be an incentive for people to start working.”
Pierluisi: SEC budget for election of statehood lobbyists is elevated
When asked for a response on using emergency funds to cover a May 16 special election to vote for six pro-statehood lobbyists to be dispatched to Washington, D.C., for which the State Elections Commission has requested $8.9 million from the Office of Management and Budget, Pierluisi said he thinks that amount is “high.”
“The budget is high because the voter turnout in this special election will not be comparable to what we had in the general election and we will not need the same number of polling stations to carry it out,” the governor said.
As for using emergency funds for this event instead of covering essential needs during the coronavirus pandemic, Pierluisi replied that “the best investment that we can make with public funds is to advocate for equality.”
“The amount of [federal] funds that Puerto Rico would receive if we were treated equally would be extraordinary,” he added. “We’re talking from $6 [billion] to $7 billion a year.”
The special election was part of the Create the Puerto Rico Congressional Delegation Act (Act 167-2020), which was approved on Dec. 30 by then-Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced and which seeks to elect statehood lobbyists to the Equality Committee: two for the U.S. Senate and four for the U.S. House of Representatives.