Most islanders are not bringing COVID-19 test upon return to Puerto Rico

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

Data from the Puerto Rico Health Department reveals that 76.5% of residents who return to the island are not bringing with them a negative COVID-19 test performed 72 hours prior to traveling, as is now required under an administrative order issued by the agency.

The order, which imposes a $300 fine for noncompliance, went into effect on Wednesday.

According to information provided by the island health agency, global numbers that date from April 1 until Wednesday (April 28) showed that 49.7% of travelers arrived in Puerto Rico with a COVID-19 test, while 49.5% of passengers have arrived with a negative result.

However, when the data is broken down, the agency said, “23.5 of [Puerto Rico] residents arrive with [COVID-19 test] results, [while] 69.8% of non-residents arrive with results.”

As of Wednesday, people who arrive on the island without a COVID-19 test are subject to the aforementioned fine; however, the administrative order provides violators a 48-hour waiver and a free referral to conduct a polymerase chain reactive (PCR) test at their preferred clinical laboratory and upload the results on the airport surveillance system in exchange for not paying the fine.

If a COVID-19 test result is not uploaded, violators must pay the fine and remain under quarantine indefinitely.

During a press conference held at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, Dr. Miriam Ramos Colón, who is in charge of the airport’s Epidemiological Surveillance System, said she assumed that the reason islanders are not bringing test results is because they don’t recognize that the requirement applies to returning residents.

“The nature of this [administrative] order is to optimize or maximize the resources we have available so that more people arrive with the test, a positive case does not reach us in Puerto Rico and all the scaffolding has to be lifted because everything starts at the airport, and this is not the only thing that exists in the surveillance system,” Ramos Colón said.

Ramos Colón pointed out meanwhile that the surveillance system platform has new options for frequent travelers where they can generate their own profile in the system to store personal information indicating that change is not required.

As for submitting a false travel declaration, the epidemiologist said that anyone who submits false information to the surveillance system is exposed to “serious penalties,” such as arrest for perjury and a $5,000 fine.

“People should not play with this system,” she said. “This document, the travel declaration form, is validated by state laws, and the agency’s Investigation Office has the resources to carry this on to higher forums.”

Health Secretary-designate Carlos Mellado López emphasized that the administrative order was issued to urge both residents and non-residents who arrive in Puerto Rico to fill out their travel declaration forms and get tested.

Although Mellado López acknowledged that the system is “not perfect,” he said it would allow for better “monitoring” as the island faces around 200 coronavirus cases with at least six variants.

“What we are trying to reinforce and encourage is that every traveler arriving in Puerto Rico has the proof beforehand, in addition to the fact that the travel declaration form gives us the possibility of being able to have identification of that passenger, to have the specific address of where they are going to be, so that we can then ‘monitor’ that passenger through our system and the Investigations Office, and see that they are in compliance,” the island Health chief said.

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