Vázquez Garced: ‘Air travelers must arrive in Puerto Rico with a negative test’

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

All air travelers who come to Puerto Rico without a negative polymerase chain reaction (better known as PCR) result administered no more than 72 hours before arrival and a travel declaration form must be under quarantine for 14 days, unless they get a COVID-19 negative result during their stay.

Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced on Tuesday announced Executive Order 2020-052, which will go into force on July 15. During a press conference at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, Vázquez said that every traveler, whether they brought documents or not, will be monitored via Sara Alert, an automated system recommended by both the Health Department and the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. (CTPR by its Spanish initials) that sends a survey to check on common symptoms for COVID-19. Non-responders will be in violation of the executive order and may expose themselves to a $5,000 penalty and a six-month jail sentence.

“As you all know, the Puerto Rico government cannot control air traffic; consequently, we cannot shut down or control the quantity of flights or passengers that arrive,” Vázquez said. “Yet we have the authority and obligation to protect every citizen who lives here. That is why we are introducing these actions to prevent further infection.”

When asked by the press if there was any liability to the order, Vázquez said the Health Department has wide discretionary power in terms of protecting citizens’ lives. In addition, she said, other legal systems in the United States, even the Supreme Court, have established rules in order to protect their residents.

“Here, protecting the lives and health of Puerto Ricans has priority. And whoever comes to Puerto Rico, those are the rules,” the governor said. “Nobody wants a citizen to be infected and spread a virus to a population that has protected themselves and followed guidelines to save their lives.”

Meanwhile, CTPR Executive Director Carla Campos called on travel agencies to inform and guide future passengers about the pending measures. She also recommended that hosts should take action in order to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

“In this case, we consider that the hosting system will help us all. When it comes to hosting, we are talking about anyone who will receive an acquaintance or family member who arrives on our island,” Campos said. “If a traveler visits a friend or family member, the host should advise them to take care of their health, be responsible with government orders and, if they have not already done so, verify their COVID-19 status. In addition, hotels and short-term rentals must document passengers’ status and report to local authorities. This will boost our monitoring system.”

Face masks are a must around restaurants During the announcement, Vázquez said that both residents and tourists must wear face masks, scarves or a cloth around their nose and mouth at all times. As she noticed that some citizens have taken the use of masks for granted, she urged local businesses to be strict and pay more attention.

“It is not fair for those who have been responsible to be affected by those what have not followed orders. We cannot take risks and let our efforts go to waste,” she said. “Puerto Ricans have been responsible by following health guidelines. Let people enjoy our island and help reactivate our economy. However, we must maintain safety measures at all times.”

Vázquez added that anyone who goes outside without wearing a mask will be detained by the police. She did not specify how officers would handle specific situations involving someone who does not follow the rule requiring a mask.