• The Star Staff

Medical task force members disagreed with governor’s reopening terms. Now cases are on the rise

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

Confirming that COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Puerto Rico, Medical Task Force epidemiologist Juan Carlos Reyes said Monday that he, along with other task force members, disagreed on Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced’s terms for reopening the island’s economy.

During an interview on Radio Isla 1320, Reyes said things have gotten “a little out of hand” as the latest Health Department report showed an upturn in confirmed and possible COVID-19 cases. The physician also said the Medical Task Force recommended myriad places and spaces that were not conducive for reopening; however, as they are an advisory group, they could not submit any orders.

“I believe that, today, we woke up with an alarming number rate; it has been one or two weeks since we have noticed this [sharp an] upturn. Everywhere, in the United States, reopening the economy has brought a rise in COVID-19 cases,” he said. “As the Medical Task Force, we advised the government not to reopen movie theaters, indoor restaurants up to 50 percent capacity, indoor churches.

Meanwhile, the epidemiologist said there has not been a discussion that should have taken place in order to prevent the coronavirus disease from spreading, which is talking about low-risk perception. He said that although the concept is not new, it is relevant as people can fall under the impression that such infection is not a threat due to lower death rates compared to other countries.

“In Puerto Rico, we have been successful in maintaining this quarantine, in maintaining physical distancing, in trying to do things right,” Reyes said. “Yet, all of a sudden, we have fallen under a low-risk perception, which is an old concept that has been under observation since HIV infection, STDs [sexually transmitted diseases] and cannabis consumption in adolescents. A person can fall under the perception when they see little to no risk, where things seem alright, where no one dies, no one around them gets sick, they end up lowering their guard and [relaxing] safety measures.”

The epidemiologist said he considered that Puerto Ricans, on a community and general population level, are under a low-risk perception. Likewise, he was concerned that the scenario on the island could change in a matter of days due to people not using their face masks and not practicing physical distancing in indoor spaces.

“There’s something so important. If people keep physically distancing, use their face masks, do not [gather in] indoor spaces or outdoors, we could control the spread,” Reyes said. “If people go out with friends and family members who are foreign to their circle and start singing and laughing, an infection risk exists. It is highly probable that you get infected at a restaurant that is using up to 75 percent capacity. Who keeps an eye on that? Every [piece of scientific] literature points out that people in an enclosed place with crowds of people who take their face masks off are at probable risk for infection.”

Family Dept. confirms first COVID-19 case in elderly home Family Secretary Orlando López Belmonte confirmed on Monday the island’s first registered COVID-19 case in an elderly home, in Carolina. The patient is a 61-year-old man who was hospitalized five days ago. The resident was admitted to a hospital with symptoms unrelated to COVID-19 and, once a test was conducted, the result was positive.

López Belmonte said medical services for the man are being subsidized by the commonwealth as he is under the Family Department’s custody. He added that the agency contacted the home where the patient resides with the results provided by Health Department authorities.

“The home has 60 residents enrolled, all of whom had a rapid test done again today [Monday],” López Belmonte said. “Furthermore, it has 38 employees who were also tested today. According to the protocol, once there is a suspicious case at a home, the in-house doctor recommends testing be conducted and reports results to a regional epidemiologist.”

At press time, a Health Department report on COVID-19 disclosed on Monday did not report any deaths from the virus, while it confirmed 204 confirmed cases and 333 additional possible cases. Meanwhile, 115 people were listed as hospitalized due to the virus, three fewer than Sunday, while 18 were under intensive care, nine more than Sunday.

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