• The Star Staff

Health Dept. remains alert amid reported COVID deaths and UK coronavirus variant

Health chief urges citizens not to lower their guard ‘even if you got vaccinated’

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The STAR

With Puerto Rico facing more than 1,400 deaths due to COVID-19 and a coronavirus variant across the Atlantic “that implies greater transmission,” island Health Secretary Lorenzo González Feliciano said Wednesday that his agency remains alert against any setback.

At the Governor Pedro Rosselló Convention Center in Miramar, the Health secretary announced that recent data from the department’s Computing Office showed that the COVID-19 mortality rate on the island in November was around 10.38 percent.

“There are reports that project that the island could surpass 1,500 deaths by the end of the year,” he said.

“[So far in] December, the mortality rate [has been duplicated]; 10 people are dying from COVID-19 daily,” González Feliciano said. “Each casualty that we report means that a Puerto Rican family will face a sad and painful Christmas.”

The Health chief also said that although Puerto Rico has seen in recent numbers a reduction of around 125 to 130 fewer hospitalizations and around 10 to 20 fewer patients plugged into a ventilator due to the coronavirus, the positivity rate in COVID-19 cases remains at 8 percent.

However, he said the current executive order has “helped third-party hospitals provide more medical resources” to fight against the virus.

As for the new strain of the coronavirus in the United Kingdom, González Feliciano said that even if the recent mutation seems more contagious, “there is nothing that makes us think, or that makes them [scientists] think, that the virus is less susceptible to vaccination or the vaccination process that currently exists.”

“From the communications generated at the beginning of this effort, we learned that we cannot take a position that this is not going to reach us,” he added. “This is going to reach us. We cannot lower our guard.”

Therefore, he urged citizens to keep following safety guidelines “even if they have been administered with the vaccine.”

“If you get vaccinated, it doesn’t mean you have immunity tomorrow,” González Feliciano said.

The Health chief noted that the vaccination process remains dependent on the current phases that were issued by Deputy Health Secretary Iris Cardona Gerena.

“Phases 1A, B, and C are being categorized as vulnerable and priority populations,” González Feliciano said.

According to a Health Department chart, the current Phase 1A will focus on inoculating healthcare workers who work in hospitals or smaller medical facilities, long-term care center employees and residents, and intellectual disability center employees and participants due to a judicial ruling.

Phase 1B focuses on people who are 65 years or older, and first-response workers. Phase 1C targets people with chronic illnesses who are aged 16 years or older, inmates, people with disabilities, people who live in shelters, spiritual assistance personnel, both college and school students, restaurant workers, and essential workers.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico Public Health Trust Executive Director José Rodríguez Orengo said a recent seroprevalence survey conducted by the trust found that the coronavirus distribution among 1,800 subjects is around 2.8 percent.

Rodríguez Orengo said the number can be taken as positive news because it indicates that “not many citizens have actually been exposed to the coronavirus.” He urged islanders to get the COVID-19 vaccine when their time comes.

“This is why the vaccination process is important, because [the survey result] can [be showing us] that we have a higher chance of taking control over the pandemic,” he said.

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