Some 80% of travelers to Puerto Rico did not bring negative COVID-19 test results
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
Although Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced’s Executive Order 2020-052 requiring travelers who come to Puerto Rico to bring a travel declaration form and a negative COVID-19 molecular test result issued 72 hours before arrival has been in effect for nine days, around 80 percent of travelers who arrived at Luis Muñoz Marín Airport in Isla Verde through the first six days covered by the order did not submit a negative test, Puerto Rico National Guard (PRNG) Adj. Gen. José J. Reyes said Wednesday.
According to data provided by the PRNG, from July 15 to July 20, the military organization registered 24,797 travelers; while 97 percent of the travelers had at least their travel declarations scanned and 3 percent received guidance to fill out the travel declaration on travelsafe.pr.gov, only 20 percent of the travelers arrived with a negative COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test in hand. Reyes said PRNG officers have advised around 80 percent of citizens and tourists to fill out their travel declarations in order to comply with SAR Alert, a mobile phone application from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor COVID-19 symptoms, and of a 14-day mandatory quarantine.
“[Regarding] the 80 percent of travelers that arrived in Puerto Rico without a negative molecular test result, they were oriented to fill out their travel declaration as information from this document goes automatically to the [Puerto Rico] Department of Health and SAR Alert and to be on quarantine for 14 days unless they get tested and get a negative test result,” Reyes said. “This is important because the [Health] Department can monitor citizens and take action on those who have symptoms or are not complying with the surveillance system. If a traveler does not answer an SAR Alert survey, a Health Department representative will be notified and contact the user that is not complying. If they don’t respond a second time, they will be visited by both a Health Department and a Puerto Rico Police Bureau agent as they are violating the executive order.”
Meanwhile, the brigadier general said, PRNG officers have seen an almost 50 percent reduction in travelers arriving at the airport, as they have registered an average of 4,500 to 5,000 people in a day. He said the restrictions have brought awareness that this is not the time to travel to the island; likewise, he added that as Puerto Rico is short on both molecular and rapid kit tests, this was the time to give priority to the elderly citizens and first responders and act intelligently.
“I trust in a resilient country with people who have done well to inform their family members and friends to not travel, as this is not the moment to come here,” Reyes said. “Both molecular and rapid kit tests are short not only in Puerto Rico, but in the United States and the rest of the world. The tests that we have available should be used intelligently on our elders, which is a susceptible community, and first responders, who are the doctors and nurses who are saving lives. Puerto Ricans have been resilient enough, and got their message across as we have seen a decrease in travelers arriving.”
However, as The Star asked why it is that we have seen citizens in the metropolitan area who are not complying with any safety measures if some 20,000 travelers are supposed to be on a 14-day quarantine and there is a shortage of PCR reagents in clinical laboratories, Reyes said he could not answer the question as the PRNG is only in charge of logistics at the airport; however, he also said it would be a great question for the Department of Health.
“Although I wouldn’t dare to give an official statement as this is a Department of Health matter, to be honest, I think it would be a great question as I have seen on the news many tourists with their face masks in their hands, instead of wearing them properly,” he said. “I am aware that the Secretary of Public Safety [Pedro Janer] has put in a more aggressive surveillance plan at the Puerto Rico Police Bureau to handle the matter, but I think every state agency should be responsible for complying with the executive order and safeguarding the health of all Puerto Ricans.”
Meanwhile, the Socialist Workers’ Movement called for a protest convoy on Saturday at 2 p.m. to demand that the government shut down the airport for the sake of citizens’ health and livelihood. The starting point of the protest will be in front of the Hotel San Juan in Isla Verde.