• The Star Staff

Governor says no need for lockdown, expects herd immunity by summer

By The Star Staff

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia on Tuesday rejected imposing a two-week total lockdown as suggested by Senate President José Luis Dalmau, arguing that none of his scientific or health advisers has proposed the idea and that with the measures currently being undertaken, the number of individuals in Puerto Rico who are infected with COVID-19 will go down.

The total lockdown was imposed last year when there were no vaccines or a monitoring system in place, but the situation is different now, the governor said.

“There is no health expert, no one from the [scientific] coalition advocating for a lockdown,” he said. “We hope that with the [10 p.m. to 5 a.m.] curfew and the 30% capacity restriction [for restaurants and retail], the numbers will continue to stabilize.”

“Vaccination is our main weapon against the pandemic. … We are in fifth place worldwide in vaccination,” Pierluisi added. “You have to be aware of what happens in the rest of the world to know that here, in terms of vaccination, we are doing more than well.”

Presently, 27.3% of the population able to be vaccinated in Puerto Rico have completed the required doses of COVID-19 immunization, while 50% have been administered at least one dose of the available vaccines. The governor said 2.7 million people on the island are eligible to get the vaccine.

The numbers were provided by Pierluisi at a news conference in which he summarized the government’s efforts to battle the coronavirus pandemic.

He said that of the 2.69 million people in Puerto Rico who are eligible for vaccination, 1.33 million have received at least one dose of the vaccines, while 735,879 have completed the process. The number includes vaccines administered by the island government as well as providers that receive the drug directly from the federal government. He acknowledged that the numbers provided by the island Health Department do not include other providers.

In the middle of the press conference, in which other agency heads participated, including designated Health Secretary Carlos Mellado López, it was revealed that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will give Puerto Rico 15,000 weekly vaccine doses starting next week.

“In Puerto Rico, 91,000 first doses of the vaccine and more than 70,000 second doses will be received on Monday … but now they have just announced that FEMA has just authorized 3,000 additional daily doses,” Pierluisi said.

The product will come from Pfizer.

Of the doses that reach the Health Department and are distributed through the Puerto Rico National Guard through 952 providers in all municipalities, some 50,000 doses are received weekly from the Retail Pharmacy Programs, which are provided by the federal government directly to Walgreens, CVS, Costco and Walmart. Additionally, Fort Buchanan and the Veterans Hospital receive weekly doses to vaccinate the populations that they serve.

Pierluisi and Mellado called for the general population to be vaccinated. The government’s expectations are that by the end of the summer between 70% and 75% of the population will have been vaccinated and the island will have reached herd immunity. To achieve herd immunity with 70% of the population, some 1.8 million people need to be vaccinated.

The governor rejected requiring people to be vaccinated, noting that some individuals reject vaccination due to health and religious reasons.

Since mid-March, the island has seen a rebound in cases that has raised the COVID-19 positivity rate to 12.5% and a resulting increase in hospitalizations. Hospitals are also seeing an increase in the number of children with the virus. In recent weeks there have even been cases of children with the dangerous multisystemic inflammation syndrome (MIS-C).

“The executive order is always under review and when changes are necessary, they will be taken with judgment and prudence,” Pierluisi said.

The governor dismissed the idea of requiring proof of vaccination for visitors, who will have to provide negative test results even if they are vaccinated.

Visitors to Puerto Rico will have to provide a timely negative molecular test or polymerase chain reaction, better known as PCR, test for COVID-19 or receive a $300 fine. Those who agree to be tested and show the results will have the fine waived if they do so within two days after arriving. Those who test positive will be quarantined and will not be allowed to leave the island until they receive a negative test result.

At Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport there are three laboratories available for passengers to be tested at a cost of $110.