Health Dept. warns school community on non-COVID respiratory diseases
Health Secretary Carlos Mellado López
By THE STAR STAFF
With the resumption of classes this week, Health Secretary Carlos Mellado López called on teachers, parents, students and the rest of the scholastic community on Tuesday to strengthen the preventive measures they have been using for COVID-19 since they are the same for avoiding the spread of other respiratory diseases.
“Respiratory diseases have similar preventive measures; it is extremely important not to touch your nose, mouth and eyes before washing your hands, avoid contact with sick people and stay home if you have any symptoms, to break the chain of infections,” Mellado López said in a written statement. “It is also important to have one’s vaccinations up to date. Everyone six months of age or older should receive the bivalent COVID-19 vaccine and the flu virus vaccine to strengthen their immune system and fight the virus. At this time there is no vaccine for RSV.”
COVID-19 surveillance teams will continue to visit school campuses for free random antigen testing, the Health chief noted. Home and referral tests for PCR testing continue to be distributed to the network of providers for students, non-teaching staff and school contractors. In this way, health professionals will be able to identify outbreaks and stop the chains of infection in the school environment and keep the education system open, Mellado López said.
According to the most recent COVID-19 epidemiological report (December 25, 2022 to December 31, 2022), the 0-4 age group had a positivity of 13.24%, the 5-9 year age group 8.76%, and 10 to 19 years a positivity of 21.10%. In the case of influenza, (same period) the age group from 0 to 4 years accumulates the largest number of positive cases, followed in order of cases by the group of 5 to 9 years, 10 to 14 years and 15 to 19 years.
Meanwhile, the Health Department reported that as Jan. 4, RSV — the leading cause of lower respiratory infections among newborns and young children — registered 1,386 cases in children under one year of age and 1,396 in children aged one to four. All of the aforementioned reports are updated weekly and published on the Department of Health’s website at https://www.salud.gov.pr/ resumen_vigilancias.
According to Health Department guidelines, the isolation period for cases that do not present symptoms is five days from the day the viral test (antigen or molecular) was performed, after receiving a positive result. The subject must wear a mask from day six until completing day 10.
The isolation period for cases with mild to moderate symptoms, meanwhile, is 10 days after the onset of symptoms.
The use of a mask is required in health services and prolonged care facilities.
“The use of a mask has always been within our recommendations as a protective measure,” said Melissa Marzán, the Health Department’s chief epidemiology officer. “Particularly in vulnerable populations, as are older adults, people with chronic conditions and congregated places. Similarly, regarding COVID-19 tests, we recommend testing on the fifth day from having had an exposure, on the fifth day from arriving from a trip or if the person has symptoms associated with the virus.”
Marzán emphasized that there is no administrative order that requires a negative test to return to school or work in person.
The Health Department maintains fixed early detection centers throughout the island, conducting tests in correctional centers, shelters, long-term care facilities, educational institutions and airports. It also facilitates access to test referrals through the Bio Portal in educational institutions and continues to distribute home tests in hard-to-reach communities and schools.
For more information on prevention measures in educational institutions, please access the updated Guide for the prevention of COVID-19 in Educational Institutions: Academic Year 2022-2023, available at: 6578 (salud.gov.pr)