Health chief calls on citizens to keep using face masks ‘even if CDC says otherwise’

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) establishing that people who are already vaccinated against the coronavirus can remove their face masks among themselves in enclosed spaces, Puerto Rico Health Secretary-designate Carlos Mellado López expressed concern over the recent guidelines on Monday and urged citizens to continue practicing safety measures to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

During a press conference at the agency’s headquarters to provide an update on the island government’s vaccination campaigns, Mellado López said that even if the federal agency advises otherwise, the guidelines could be seen as “a subterfuge or an inducement” to refrain from what has been established as a valid health safety measure.

Thus the Health secretary-designate said citizens who have received COVID-19 shots should continue using their face masks “to protect those who have been unable to receive the vaccine.”

“My concern is that it can be confusing. I don’t have a tattoo that says I’m vaccinated. People don’t know if I’m vaccinated,” Mellado López said. “With all due respect to the CDC, it could generate a false sense of safety in the public when everyone has been told that, even though you are vaccinated, you must use the mask.”

“I can be vaccinated and not have a reaction in me, but I can be a vector and maybe pass it on to a person who is not vaccinated,” he added. “From that point of view, it does cause me concern, but everything in life is to educate. If you ask me if I would take off my mask, the answer is no.”

Regarding the vaccination process, Mellado López announced that, as of Monday, 900,000 doses had been distributed and 567,813 doses had been registered. As for “ultra-frozen live doses,” he said 80,000 are ready to be distributed.

“The difference in the numbers [between distributed and registered vaccines] stems from more than 100,000 doses distributed to the Retail Pharmacy Program that does not exactly report to us, as they report to the CDC,” he said.

As of Monday, around 188,427 people in Puerto Rico who are 65 years of age or older had been vaccinated against the coronavirus. Of that number, 5,133 are from elderly care centers, 4,747 are bedridden patients, 66,380 are enrolled in long-term care facilities, 2,745 have intellectual disabilities, 94,008 belong to both the public and private education system, and 19,025 are from correctional facilities.

As for distributed vaccines, 69,400 Pfizer doses have been distributed, and 9,324 first shots and 12,497 booster shots have been received. In addition, 34,200 Moderna doses have been distributed to the island and 13,200 shots will be delivered among 16 vaccine providers, and 28,000 Johnson & Johnson shots have been allocated and 12,800 doses have been received.

Puerto Rico National Guard Adj. Gen. José Reyes announced meanwhile that 100% of the eligible population in Vieques and Culebra will be inoculated against COVID-19.

“We are more than hopeful that these would become the first two municipalities that will be able to reach that 70-80 percent of vaccinations to reach herd immunity,” Reyes said, adding that the vaccine campaign began yesterday and is expected to conclude Friday.

‘No major changes’ anticipated for next COVID-19 emergency decree Earlier Monday, when asked about the next executive order to control the coronavirus emergency amid recent crowding issues, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia said there won’t be major changes in the next executive order.

However, he urged citizens to keep their guard up until they get their coronavirus vaccinations.

“Be patient,” the governor said. “I am asking the people in general not to claim victory, not to lower their guard. We have to continue protecting ourselves.”

When asked again if there will be greater restrictions, Pierluisi said “the new order will be looking to avoid crowding.”

“I am not ready to allow large-scale gatherings. The restrictions on occupancy in commercial establishments will continue to be in effect,” he said. “There may be a change, but it will remain in force. I will be watching to see that enclosed places are not crowded with people. It cannot happen.”

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