Travelers free to leave island without paying COVID test fine

By John McPhaul

The administrators of Puerto Rico’s airports do not have the power by law to prevent a traveler from leaving the island without paying an administrative fine for failing to produce a negative COVID-19 test, Miriam Ramos Colón, an epidemiologist in charge of the Epidemiological Surveillance System at Luis Muñoz Marín International (LMM) Airport, confirmed Wednesday in a radio interview.

Ramos Colón said “it is important to be clear that an administrative fine does not empower the government to prevent a person from boarding [a plane] and leaving the jurisdiction because it is an administrative fine.”

The epidemiologist confirmed that people will be able to leave Puerto Rico, even if they have been fined $300 for not presenting a negative test for COVID-19, as required in the latest executive order that seeks to prevent infections with the coronavirus.

“The fine is issued by the Department of Health, based on the powers that the executive order gave it and how the administrative order was worked on,” Ramos Colón said. “It is a fine like the one that provides, for example, environmental health to businesses. A fine with the same weight as the one for the use of the mask. It is an administrative fine executed by the Department of Health and you have up to 48 hours to issue the payment.”

The epidemiologist added that “the method is already established” for how to pay the fine.

“In a [web] page we will give the details, so that the traveler can access them. It is very easy to access and make the payment,” Ramos Colón said. “And they are evaluating other methods apart from that platform that Health already has ‘in place’ for another type of administrative fine, so that the traveler can make the payment” of the $300 fine.

At the end of January, Aerostar Airport Holdings reached an agreement with the laboratory firm CMT Group Corp. that cleared the way for COVID-19 test collection centers to be set up at LMM airport.

The presence of the testing centers allows passengers entering and leaving the island to comply with the regulations imposed by the island government and other jurisdictions, Jorge Hernández, CEO of Aerostar Puerto Rico, the airport operator, said at the end of January.

“The trend across different destinations is to require negative tests to allow access, free of quarantine, to travelers,” Hernández said. “The aviation industry promotes requiring its travelers to test negative for COVID-19 prior to boarding the plane. For this reason, we are preparing to offer passengers an additional alternative for the service of taking rapid tests, both antigen and molecular, within the same airport with results in less than 48 hours, both for those who enter and those who leave Puerto Rico.”

The three COVID-19 test collection centers at LMM were set up by the laboratory firm CMT Group Corp. The first two have been operating in terminal A and C since February, with a third operating in Terminal B, giving travelers access to testing facilities a short distance from their boarding points. The testing centers operate seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 12 a.m. The cost for a test is $110.

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