Health professionals urge keeping executive order intact; others demand full reopen
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
“There was a meeting with the medical group yesterday [Tuesday], and then with the economic group today [Wednesday], and the differences between both positions are significant. Therefore, the governor [Wanda Vázquez Garced] must decide.”
That is what Physicians and Surgeons Association of Puerto Rico President Víctor Ramos said Wednesday when the Star asked what was expected for the next executive order, scheduled to take effect Oct. 17, as the Puerto Rico government continues to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Ramos told the Star that even though the economic sector is demanding “a significant reopening” as they advocate for expanded hours of operation and higher limits on customer capacity at commercial establishments, meanwhile the medical sector is recommending that Vázquez keep the next order as is to maintain control of the coronavirus pandemic.
“COVID-19 doesn’t come separately. It’s not the only illness we are attending to at hospitals; it’s not the only ailment that fills up our hospitals. We must consider the things that are about to happen: Halloween and general elections,” Ramos said. “What I see is that [COVID-19] cases are still going up, 200 to 300 cases a day. We are stuck -- cases are not rising dramatically, so saying otherwise might be lying, but cases are not going down.”
Ramos raised further concerns for a wider reopening given that intensive care unit beds and general hospital beds are “occupied by 62 percent and more than 50 percent, respectively,” and there’s a lack of medical personnel in the field to assist more COVID-19 patients and others “who had chronic health issues and feared going to hospitals due to the coronavirus and now show up due to medical complications.”
“Today, there are some hospitals that have ceased to do elective surgeries that require an ICU out of fear they would fill beds that might be needed later; that is what’s happening in the field,” Ramos said, noting that numbers “shouldn’t only be calculated and painted with a color.”
COVID-19 risk index is at ‘Code Yellow’
Puerto Rico Public Health Trust Executive Director José Rodríguez Orengo told the Star that after not receiving test results from the laboratory Quest Diagnostics for two weeks due to the island Health Department (DS by its Spanish initials) detaining them after an unusual amount of positive cases of the coronavirus, “it provided a better view of what’s going on on the island with COVID-19.”
“From September 28 to October 8, we have all the data from the Department of Health attached, and what it indicates to us, according to our risk index, is that we are at moderate risk,” Rodríguez Orengo said. “That’s the same [level] we were at back on Sept. 6, when we gave the recommendation to reopen [the economy] again, when gyms and movie theaters were able to operate. Our advice is to keep the next executive order at this level.”
When the Star asked if there should be any concerns after the DS on Tuesday reported 40 new hospitalizations due to COVID-19, Rodríguez Orengo said that with the information that was provided through Oct. 11 and analyzed by the trust, “there were around 38 percent of ICUs available” and noted that “in the 23 weeks that the island has been under the public health emergency, availability rate has never been under 30 percent.”
“If you tell me today that -- I haven’t seen the numbers today as I go over them during the evening to revise the information -- if I see a pattern, that pattern must be noted because there could be some kind of outbreak or any other explanation that can be reported,” he said. “At the moment, what we have observed is that the situation has been community outbreaks, and that community outbreaks are moderate. By moderate, I mean that there is an average of 190 to 210 people becoming infected [with COVID-19] daily. If we see an increase in this portion, that would lead to concerns.”