Hospitals Assn. president urges stricter orders to stem COVID rebound
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to escalate on the island, Puerto Rico Hospitals Association President Jaime Plá Cortés suggested Thursday that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia impose stricter measures to mitigate a further increase and prevent the island’s hospital system from collapsing under the caseload.
Within days of an executive order requiring workers in the restaurant and entertainment industry to be vaccinated against the coronavirus and to ask their customers to show proof of vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours of entering an indoor establishment, Plá Cortes told The STAR that “in the absence of the fact that the progress of infections does not stop, the governor may have to mediate if he wants to implement some additional measures.”
“What happens is that you have to give time to the measures that are being implemented; you must give businesses time to prepare, but the measures must come into effect, and in a week and a half, we must see if either they are having an effect or we determine additional measures,” the head of the Hospitals Association said. “However, in a week and a half, as things are going, hospitals could be seeing 600 COVID hospitalizations.”
Plá Cortes’ statements came after the Department of Health reported 492 hospitalizations due to the coronavirus. Among the hospitalized are 449 adults, 108 of whom are under intensive care, and 43 minors, with two under pediatric intensive care.
Moreover, the agency reported 13 additional COVID deaths, which brought the island total to 2,702 since the pandemic began in March 2020.
“This is happening amid completely reopening all services, which is something that was bound to happen,” Plá Cortes told the STAR.
The Hospitals Association chief also said residents “are not taking care of themselves” with the island facing the delta variant, which he said also bumped due to “not having enough people getting vaccinated at the rhythm that should happen.”
Plá Cortés pointed out that the COVID hospitalization rebound comes at a time when “healthcare workers are working overtime with a difficult disease.” He urged the government to incentivize their labor during the public health emergency.
“They are working with the fear that they could infect themselves and other people,” he said. “When there is a difficult disease affecting the population, the workload tends to get heavier.”
“Some have resigned because they could no longer take seeing so many people under intensive care,” Plá Cortes added. “We must take care of our healthcare workers’ mental health, and that’s something challenging to work with.”
According to data from the Community Health Coalition (COSACO by its Spanish acronym), 4,524 out of 7,117 adult hospital beds were occupied on Thursday. Meanwhile, 442 out of 611 intensive care unit beds were occupied.
In the pediatric section, 563 out of 1,236 hospital beds were occupied, while 38 out of 89 intensive care unit beds were occupied.
On Wednesday, former Municipal Case Investigation and Contact Tracing System chief Fabiola Cruz López insisted on the need to prevent mass gatherings during the public health emergency.
“More than 90 percent of the cases reported in the month of July are of [the delta variant]. It is clear that the effect we are feeling in Puerto Rico is [the delta variant],” Cruz López said. “I believe that all scientists point to the gatherings, keeping distance, reinforcing the use of masks at crowded events, and enforcing it while the event is taking place.”
“If food is going to be eaten inside the place, then the capacity must be reduced,” she added.