The Road to Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has again locked down the island to residents and tourists amid surging cases of COVID-19. Gov. Wanda Vázquez’s new executive order is in effect until July 31 – limited hours for bars, restaurants, casinos, even the use of beaches. The 10 p.m. curfew also remains in effect. A dry law is in place from 7 p.m.

The island has over 3,700 confirmed COVID cases, but about 12,000 confirmed and probable cases. About 178 deaths have been reported.

Immediately after the new executive order visitors canceled hotel reservations, including stays at the island’s paradores, which cater to internal tourism, creating tension between establishments (hotels, paradores) and 15,000 AirBnBs, which apparently are not as closely monitored. 

Island economists expressed renewed fears that the current lockdown will spur a migration to Florida and other states as soon as the COVID coast is clear, further decimating Puerto Rico’s economy.

As far as airports, the governor earlier asked the Federal Aviation Administration to close regional airports in Aguadilla and Ponce, to which the FAA agreed. Last week the governor asked to halt flights from Florida and Texas, two coronavirus hot spots. The FAA has been … silent. Thus far. Florida has about 30 daily flights to Puerto Rico. 

Florida is a basket case and I understand why Puerto Rico may want to limit the flow of traffic from here. We’ll overlook, for the moment, that travel from Puerto Rico to Florida, particularly Walt Disney World and other theme parks popular with Puerto Rico’s middle and upper middle class, is unrestricted.

A big chunk of tourism to Puerto Rico during the summer is generated by stateside Puerto Ricans returning to visit family. They support local businesses because they know the island well. But Puerto Rico is blaming “outsiders” for spreading the coronavirus, although I’ve read of only two accounts in the island press. (Ron DeSantis was one of the first governors to use the tactic, blaming New Yorkers for rising virus case numbers in Florida.)  

Gov. Vázquez is requiring visitors to carry proof of a negative COVID test dated within the last 72 hours, knowing that nobody – least of all Floridians – can obtain results in three days. Ten days is more like it. Whatever proof Florida visitors carry will be immediately outdated. 

Airport officials installed thermal imaging scanners to detect travelers with fever. The travelers are separated and tested at the airport. Remaining visitors without proof of a negative test may take the COVID test in Puerto Rico at their expense plus quarantine. They must also submit a traveler declaration form in order to get an “airport exit confirmation number.” 

A recent video of the airport depicted a long line of people, including families with children and abuelas in wheel chairs, waiting to be cleared with no social distancing among them. The video went viral. If you didn’t have COVID before, you may certainly have contracted it at the airport.  

It’s all bureaucratic – and very like Puerto Rico. 

˜˜María Padilla, Editor

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