After a few dozen Miss World contestants got sick, the pageant finals in Puerto Rico were canceled.
On Thursday, the Scientific Coalition, a group of scientists and health professionals that has been advising the governor, recommended even stricter measures, such as limits on alcohol sales and shorter hours for bars and other establishments. On Friday, the governor followed the recommendation and ordered businesses closed between midnight and 5 a.m. from Jan. 4 until Jan. 18. He also mandated booster shots for restaurant employees and public safety workers.
“It’s a message that’s hard to digest when two weeks ago the case numbers here were among the lowest in the world,” said Daniel Colón-Ramos, a Yale University professor who is president of the coalition.
The measures are particularly hard in Puerto Rico, he said, where it is hard to overstate the importance of a holiday season that starts at Thanksgiving and lasts until Jan. 6. He described it as “Fourth of July plus the Super Bowl.”
“Christmas is a week that Puerto Ricans celebrate their identity,” he said. “They celebrate their family. They celebrate their faith. They celebrate their heritage.”
The average age of people who become infected on the island is 33, health officials said. But experts worry that if young people who become infected while attending parties and other events visit elders for New Year’s and Three Kings Day, the number of sick older people is certain to rise. With so many of its young professionals moving in recent years to Florida, Texas and other states, Puerto Rico has a disproportionately high percentage of older adults, many of whom suffer from diabetes, obesity and other ailments that put them at higher risk for coronavirus complications.
“We have a health system that is — it’s not a secret — fragile,” said Carlos R. Mellado López, the island’s secretary of health. He urged people not to unnecessarily overwhelm testing centers and insisted that Puerto Rico had the tools necessary, such as monoclonal antibody treatments, to combat the crisis.
But experts also caution that thousands of medical professionals have left Puerto Rico in recent years in search of higher salaries, which could complicate the island’s ability to attend to large numbers of sick people. The number of doctors on the island has dropped by 5,000 since 2006, and another exodus of primary care doctors is anticipated because they were left out of recent tax incentives designed to keep specialists from leaving, said Víctor M. Ramos Otero, president of the Puerto Rico doctors’ association.
“The problem we have is not the beds,” Mr. Ramos said. “The principal issue is the personnel.”
José R. López de Victoria, an epidemiologist who helped design coronavirus protections for Puerto Rican basketball teams, said the crisis was still stretching ahead.
“From what we are seeing at testing sites, this is not over,” he said. “It’s going to be two more weeks. The expectation is that the case rate will go up.”
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