Upturn in COVID-19 cases post-election week raises red flag in public health community

Physicians & Surgeons Association: Puerto Rico is looking at 500 new cases daily

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

After the gatherings that took place during election week, confirmed cases of COVID-19 have gone up, and the public health community has raised concerns.

Physicians and Surgeons Association of Puerto Rico President Víctor Ramos said Sunday that “we’re probably at the worst moment of the pandemic” as coronavirus cases haven’t dropped off since early September.

“For two months, we were seeing that COVID-19 cases would neither increase nor decrease, which was not good because we want to see cases go down,” Ramos said. “However, last month [October] and this week, we increased from 200 cases per day to almost 500 cases per day. We were never at that level.”

As for political events prior to and including election day and afterwards, Ramos said that if you include activities such as political rallies, campaign closings, celebratory activities, and even the crowding at polling centers, they will have a toll on increasing COVID-19 cases.

“Although people behaved by maintaining physical distance and wearing their face masks, they were exposed for many hours, and some people got too close to greet and kiss others that they hadn’t seen for a while,” he said. “Any activity, whether it is political or not, that promotes crowding will lead to infection.”

The pediatrician also told the Star that the case spikes have led to more hospitalizations and fewer available intensive care unit beds; however, the situation has led to there being more general hospital beds available because, he said, “more people fear going to hospitals.”

“People think that COVID-19 lives by itself, and all people think about is COVID, COVID, COVID, but people don’t see that the coronavirus lives within an environment,” Ramos said. “We are going to have [in hospitals] COVID-19 patients, patients with unbalanced chronic illnesses, and patients with other infectious diseases that are beginning to spread such as influenza, mycoplasma and dengue.”

Meanwhile, Cruz María Nazario, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico’s Graduate School of Public Health, said the local government faces an “impressively” similar issue to the one the United States is facing because “they copy everything, particularly the bad [from the States], and we have witnessed a critical upturn in cases as we face 3,000 cases per week.”

“On any other occasion, we would be saying that we are facing an enormous crisis, a gigantic public health issue, but I don’t know why there’s this attitude of staying silent from the government; they look like they don’t want to talk or expose themselves to uncomfortable questions,” Nazario said. “If you have from 3,000 to 4,000 cases per week, estimates made by other organizations show that there are 10 times more cases than what is reported, therefore, if there are 3,000 confirmed cases in a week, 30,000 people would be infected with COVID-19.”

The epidemiologist called for the island Department of Health to “do more molecular testing and release results swiftly in less than 24 hours” to prevent future spreading.

“The responsibilities of both the Health Department and the Puerto Rican government have not been questioned by anyone; they keep insisting that we, citizens, are the ones that should be responsible,” Nazario said. “And even though I do agree that we have to play our part, what I don’t agree with is that the Department exists only to release numbers every day.”

Health Dept. provides free drive-thru antigen tests at Buchanan toll

Earlier in the day, the Department of Health, in collaboration with the Municipal Case Investigation and Contact Tracing System, offered free drive-thru antigen tests to detect COVID-19 at the Buchanan toll on the José de Diego Expressway in Guaynabo.

Health Secretary Lorenzo González Feliciano said in a written statement that “the initiative is intended to impact asymptomatic people who are carriers of the virus without knowing it.”

“For this reason, the tests will be available to anyone who is interested in taking them and will be administered free of charge,” González Felciano said. “The effort will be replicated during the following weekends, at all tolls on the island.”

As for the executive order, whose current version reaches its deadline on Friday, Ramos told the Star that meetings are ongoing between Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced, the medical community and the economic sector.