Puerto Rico’s government reports 378 confirmed cases of coronavirus so far. Among them, 15 people have died. The island’s already-frail healthcare system—which includes a shortage of doctors and nurses amid continued out-migration is a major problem—simply cannot withstand a large-scale pandemic. The smaller island of Vieques is still without a functioning hospital, adding to the need for all hands on deck.
Yet the island’s main airport remains open, albeit in decreased volume, with nearly 200 flights arriving daily from the U.S. and the Caribbean.
The National Guard is stationed at Luis Muñoz Marín, but the screening process for passengers landing in San Juan is minimal. Visitors are questioned about their health, have their temperatures taken and anyone who hits 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit or higher is then sent for an evaluation via the Department of Health. Still, all this does little to stop the spread of COVID-19 if a person is asymptomatic.
At least 20% of Puerto Rican residents are 65 years of age and older, and this group, as we know, is most vulnerable to COVID-19 complications or death. Economically, much of the population is struggling—with a reported poverty rate of 43.1%, although a current count, considering long standing high unemployment, could be significantly greater.
Governor Wanda Vázquez has called on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to stop all incoming flights to Puerto Rico for 14 days. The FAA is reviewing the request but stated, as published by the Miami Herald, that “in general, FAA policy does not permit the closure or restriction of airports that receive federal funds. Any request to restrict or close an airport must be approved by the FAA.”
Many Puerto Ricans don’t approve of Vázquez and her administration—as you may recall, she’s the unelected governor who succeeded Rosselló after his resignation last August. The pros and cons of her pandemic response aren’t what’s up for debate here, though. It doesn’t matter that Puerto Rican residents are currently subject to one of the strictest lockdowns as compared to people anywhere else: If more people carrying the virus arrive on the island, it will continue to spread.
To avoid being part of a potential surge in cases, anyone considering traveling to Puerto Rico right now should rethink their plans.
Rather than physically going to Puerto Rico (this goes diasporicans who want to see family, as well) consider a virtual visit instead. There is a multitude of ways to experience Puerto Rico’s culture, music, sights and even food—all without risking your life or the lives of others.