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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Health chief goes over current COVID-19 measures with their exceptions

Health Secretary Carlos Mellado López

By The Star Staff

While Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia’s most recent executive order repealed the requirement to use masks, Health Secretary Carlos Mellado López on Wednesday said there are exceptions where their use will be mandatory.

“The use of masks for mass events will be reviewed in a timely manner following the CDC COVID-19 community levels. For the low level (green color), the level in which we currently are, their use will be optional,” the Health secretary said in written remarks. “At the moderate (yellow) or high (red) levels, the use of masks will be required. We will continue to actively monitor community levels and make adjustments as needed.”

The use of masks will be optional in mass activities of more than 1,000 people in theaters, amphitheaters, stadiums, coliseums, convention and activity centers, and similar places in which any event is held -- be it exterior or interior. In these types of events, however, individuals must show evidence of their duly completed doses, either of a vaccine approved or authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or any other included in the emergency use list of the World Health Organization.

Generally speaking, individuals can use masks if they wish, but Mellado López urged the public to continue practicing other precautionary measures, such as maintaining a minimum space of six feet from other people and regularly washing hands with soap and water or disinfectants.

The Health chief signed Administrative Order 533 in which he established, among other things, that people who use or work in public transportation, health facilities, correctional institutions, long-term care homes for the elderly or community homes that serve the population of people with intellectual disabilities, must wear masks. The mask requirement is maintained for individuals in hospitals, emergency rooms, doctor’s offices, health centers, clinics, clinical laboratories and pharmacies, among other healthcare settings.

Child care centers (including Head Start and Early Head Start), public or private schools and universities will continue to have mask requirements while students are in the classroom. However, mask use will be optional in open spaces at those facilities, Mellado López said.

In accordance with OE-2022-019, the vaccination mandates against COVID-19 are eliminated. However, underage students over 16 years of age will be subject to mandatory inoculation, as established in Act 25 of Sept. 25, 1983, which empowers the Health secretary to publish any other vaccine that he sees fit to require. The COVID-19 vaccine was already on the list of required vaccines for students.

However, students between the ages of 5 and 15 are exempt from the compulsory vaccination requirement against COVID-19. Similarly, in all cases the medical and religious exceptions will also continue to apply. Meanwhile, the existing vaccination mandate by federal Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services regulation for personnel working in health facilities will continue.

The Health Department will continue to promote vaccination and booster doses in all applicable sectors, as well as orientation campaigns on measures to prevent infection. Likewise, the tracking and testing effort to detect COVID-19 will continue.

Each private or government operator may implement, at its discretion, the health measures that it understands should be implemented depending on the operation, including the use of masks and proof of vaccination, subject to the applicable medical and religious exceptions.

“It is important that, in requiring the use of a mask, reasonable accommodation measures should be offered to the deaf population such as the momentary removal of the mask for effective communication, use of a transparent mask, and any other that applies and that guarantees the right of this population to receive the service they request,” Mellado López said.

Regarding the rules for travelers, OE-2022-019 already repealed the vaccination requirements to enter the island established by executive order. Given this scenario, the requirement to complete the Traveler’s Declaration upon arrival in Puerto Rico was eliminated. However, genomic surveillance and voluntary testing centers at airports remain in force for as long as the Health secretary deems prudent.

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