Within five days of lifting all pandemic restrictions, the island state of Puerto Rico experienced an unexpected increase in Covid-19 cases.

New cases are reported at a startling per-capita rate that is more than six times higher than the national average. Puerto Rico’s Covid numbers are on the rise; the country’s 7-day average is 4000, with over 3500 of them being first-timers. This is a significant difference from the 200 cases reported in early March.

Despite having less than 1% of the population of the United States, Puerto Rico accounts for 7% of all cases reported in the country.

Puerto Rico now has over 130 new cases per 100,000 residents, a 15% increase in test positivity, and an increase in hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and deaths.

Although Puerto Rico consists of less than 1 percent of the United States population, it accounts for 7 percent of the total cases reported in the country. 

According to Rafael A. Irizarry, a Harvard statistician who keeps a dashboard data of Puerto Rico’s covid cases, the number of cases has been doubling every week for the past few weeks.

The steep rise in cases has subsided. However, the rising effect has been on the table for quite some time and reveals a dreaded lag effect. Another important thing to note is the increase in hospitalizations. Puerto Rico currently has around 250 people hospitalized relating to Covid complications, but surprisingly that is a three times jump from the reported number of cases two months ago, reveals the Department of Health Data.

Why Is There A Sudden Rise In Covid Cases?

On March 10, Governor Pedro R. Pierluisi ordered the removal of all coronavirus-imposed restrictions, including the requirement for incoming travelers to Puerto Rico to produce a recent Covid negative test and the requirement for vaccination proof for patrons entering indoor venues. Other changes include removing capacity restrictions in both private and public businesses.

This includes the failure to produce vaccination certificates for restaurant employees, public school students, and health workers. So far, however, health care facilities and nursing homes have not been exempted.

Many different factors contributed to the situation, such as holding a series of massive concerts where the audience did not want to wear masks, and the holy week season up until Easter Sunday, when people were not taking precautions seriously. Juan Luis Guerra, a Dominican superstar musician, tested positive for Covid a few days after his performance in San Juan.

Puerto Rico’s vaccination record is admirable. More than 78 percent of the island’s population has received two doses of the vaccine, far exceeding the country’s average of 66 percent. However, many people have yet to receive the Booster shots. The week after Christmas and the New Year’s holiday, Puerto Rico experienced an explosion of new cases during the country’s first Omicron surge.

Governor Pierluisi believes that the time for mandates has passed, and that it is now up to individual citizens to exercise “civic responsibility” in deciding what actions to take and when. Despite this official statement, the administration team has reinstated mandatory masking in schools.

Dr. Kenira Thompson, Vice President for Research at Ponce Health Sciences University in Puerto Rico and President of the group of scientists who advise the Puerto Rican government on issues, has urged the country to take a tougher stance on the masks mandate.

Dr. Thompson believes that the increase in cases is a direct result of the removal of the vaccine mandate on the US mainland and in Puerto Rico, which has seen a significant increase in foreign visitors this year.

The airport in San Juan is overcrowded, with a large number of new arrivals and departures. Puerto Rico’s survival is primarily dependent on tourism revenue. Although the country welcomes visitors, it will increase the likelihood of transmission.

Experts see the increase in Covid cases in Puerto Rico as a precursor to what is to come in the United States, and have warned of the possibility of a spike in cases during the summer.

Deborah Birx, a prominent member of the ex-White House Covide task force, advises residents, particularly those in the South, to take necessary precautions such as booster shots and proper masking to avoid the summer surge. This, she believes, is the real challenge.

Hepatitis Surge

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States revealed concerning data. It shows that since their alert was issued two weeks ago, they have received 109 reports of mysterious hepatitis in children from the United States and Puerto Rico.

90% of the sick children were properly admitted to medical facilities, and 14% required liver transplants. Five of the admitted children died. Almost all of the children recover but remain in hospitals.

Half of the admitted children tested positive for adenovirus infection, and experts stress that covid may not be the cause of hepatitis. They have called for thorough investigations into the cause of hepatitis, and are currently considering several possibilities.

Some of the possible explanations include the presence of co-factors, which could include a previous COVID-19 infection. As of now, chronic COVID-19 infection is not limited to Puerto Rico or the United States.

Retaliatory Measures

Despite the constant increase in positive Covid cases, which may herald another wave of Covid cases in the country, Puerto Rico Leads Las America’s foundation, which stands for providing pathogen-free and safe environments, continues to thrive. They have asked non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to apply for funds to combat pathogens in the air.

The Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (AAFAF) oversees the Assistance Program for Non-profit Organizations, which could receive $500,000 for essential services, reimbursements, and improvements for residents affected by the pandemic. The American Rescue Plan Act’s (ARPA) Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund provides this funding.

Nelson Traverso, the foundation’s director and a member of the United States Independent Air Sharing Strategic Research Board, stated that this would be a fantastic opportunity to define infrastructure investment projects that will give due weightage to indoor air health as a countermeasure to reduce pathogens transmitted through air, such as Covid-19.

He also claims that since the beginning of the pandemic, they have emphasized the importance of using cutting-edge technology to eliminate the presence of Covid in the air. They can delete the number of pathogens in the air using their existing technologies, making their elimination very simple.

Given that it is primarily a tourist-driven state, it would be impossible to close its doors to visitors. Adopting a balanced approach, such as administering booster shots while also implementing precautionary mandates such as masking, may prove to be the most effective way to deal with this surge.

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