Protective masks against COVID-19 are no longer mandatory in most settings
By The Star Staff
The use of masks as a preventive measure against the spread of COVID-19 will be recommended but not mandatory in educational institutions, public transportation, pharmacies, or long-term care homes, the island’s top physician announced on Tuesday.
On the other hand, the mandatory use of masks is to be maintained in health facilities such as emergency rooms, hospitals, doctors’ offices, and clinical laboratories. In the case of pharmacies, masks will only be required in the prescription area.
“The restrictions and mandates are not forever; they came into effect at the right time, and two years into the pandemic, citizens have been able to learn how to take care of themselves from this fatal virus,” Health Secretary Carlos Mellado López said in a written communication. “I am confident that we can continue to move forward, at the same time that we continue with the prevention and protection measures to guarantee the control of the disease.”
He emphasized that “in Puerto Rico, we have been successful in managing the pandemic thanks to the measures implemented at the historical moment in which we live.”
The new Administrative Order 2022-548 makes it clear that the Department of Health (DS by its Spanish initials) does not promote the requirement of a negative COVID-19 result to allow visitors to enter long-term care homes for the elderly or community homes that serve people with disabilities.
According to the new community COVID-19 levels of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which evaluate indicators of the impact on the hospital system, Puerto Rico is at a moderate level and the tendency to drop to a low level has begun to be seen in several municipalities on the island. In the case of pediatrics, the current occupancy rate is 3 percent, while adult bed occupancy does not exceed 4 percent.
According to data compiled by the DS, in the past few weeks, COVID-19 community levels have begun to decrease in several municipalities. As of Tuesday, 73 towns were at a moderate level and five at a low level. Likewise, the percentage of positivity has been decreasing, estimated at 20.5 percent.
Mellado López emphasized that prevention measures such as up-to-date vaccination status, hand washing, disinfection of common areas, and the use of masks are still recommended to mitigate risks associated with the disease, mainly in populations at higher risk for complications such as older adults (65 years or older, history of chronic conditions, overweight and obese).
In keeping with CDC guidelines for school facilities, the Health Department revised the guidelines used for educational institutions, reclassifying as recommendations some of the requirements established in the past.
People with positive results under two or those who cannot use masks for medical reasons should remain in isolation until day 10. Meanwhile, a person with mild to moderate symptoms should also remain in isolation for 10 days. In case of severe disease, immunocompromised persons, or pregnant women, the period is determined in consultation with their health care provider.
The strategy for COVID-19 testing in K-12 educational institutions will continue to be implemented as it allows the identification of asymptomatic cases and prevents the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in schools. Testing is promoted by the CDC as a prevention strategy to protect the entire school community.
For detailed information on the COVID-19 Prevention Guide for Kindergarten (K) through Grade 12 schools, visit the Department of Health’s website at https://www.salud.gov.pr/.