In order to avoid an increase in COVID-19 infections on the upcoming holidays and amid a slight rebound in infections, the governor Pedro Pierluisi yesterday announced a new executive order, effective immediately, by which it modified some vaccination requirements for employees of the public sector and the private sector.
In the first instance, The president made the mandatory vaccination official for workers in companies with 50 or more employees.
Likewise, with the new guideline, the chief executive eliminated the requirement that public employees not vaccinated against COVID-19 must present a sworn certification to prove that they qualify under the religious or medical exception. Those who do not wish to be vaccinated must present a negative test result every seven days, not necessarily the first day of the work week as was required until yesterday to the unvaccinated.
“This is very simple. There are two options: get vaccinated or come with a negative test “said the governor.
However, in the education and health sector, compulsory vaccination of employees will be maintained, except for medical or religious reasons. Those who do not wish to be vaccinated for other reasons will not have the option of presenting negative tests to go to work.
“In these two areas (education and health), the interest is pressing on the part of the State, hence limiting the field of objection to only sincere, religious and medical objections, duly founded”Pierluisi explained.
This executive order (OE-75-2021) also applies to municipal employees, who will have 45 days to comply with the complete and compulsory vaccination, and show evidence to the employer. In summary, employees will have three options: get vaccinated, present a negative result every seven days, or present a positive result with a document proving their recovery., it was informed. Pierluisi said that he included municipalities in his guideline without consulting the mayors, because there is an emergency due to the pandemic that paralyzed the entire world in March 2020.
“It is a health determination. Here’s an emergency statement from the executive branch of this server. The Municipal Code establishes that when the governor declares an emergency, that displaces any municipal ordinance. It obliges every municipality to comply with it “, stressed the governor to questions from The new day.
He stressed that the vast majority of municipalities comply with his guideline.
“God knows if there is no municipality that has not done this”, he pointed. “There are no exceptions. Why are we going to make an exception with the municipalities?added.
Likewise, Pierluisi established in the decree that minors from 5 to 11 years old may attend mass events in closed places, until January 31, 2022, if they present a negative COVID-19 test carried out 72 hours before entering the establishment.
“There what is being done is that, by way of dispensations, minors of that age can attend certain events, if precautionary measures are taken in place”, the chief executive added.
The Health Department would evaluate which activities minors will be allowed to do, the secretary said.
“From now on I tell you that if it is an activity of 100% vaccinated people, they are told ‘if you want to have children, it has to be in a separate space, where it is 50% (of the maximum capacity) with distance’ “, explained the Secretary of Health, Carlos Mellado.
As an example, he said that this was the Health requirement to allow minors in ball games.
The secretary reiterated that he will not endorse minors in a concert “unless it does not have an area specifically for children and it is 50% (capacity)”.
Crucial January and February
As of February 1, 2022, children ages 5 to 11 must be fully vaccinated or have a negative COVID-19 test to enter private establishments, such as restaurants or hotels, as is required for adults.
As I had already advanced, Pierluisi included in the executive order that students from 5 to 11 years old must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to take face-to-face classes as of January 31, 2022. This requirement is similar to the one that already exists for students 12 years of age and older.
“We want to avoid exposure by all means when face-to-face education is involved”Pierluisi said.
You can also read: The COVID-19 positivity rate increases in Puerto Rico
The decree left unchanged some measures already implemented to combat COVID-19. For instance, mask should continue to be worn indoors.
The requirement to wear a mask in activities with 50 people or more outdoors is also kept in force and its use is recommended in tourist places and in urban areas where there are crowds. It is not mandatory to wear a mask on beaches or resorts.
Likewise, the Department of Health may also require the use of masks in places where it finds it appropriate.
When it comes to private meetings of 20 people or less, where all attendees are vaccinated, the mask is recommended, but not mandatory.
If they are mass activities in closed places, the order is maintained that all people must be vaccinated so that the establishment has 100% occupancy. While the places that only require a negative test, will have a capacity of 50% occupancy.
“No executive order protects us better than our own actions. Everyone to protect themselves “, the governor pointed out.
The president rejected that there is a legal impediment or that a lawsuit can reverse his executive order.
“The actions that we announced today (yesterday), as well as those that remain in force, I am taking to help protect ourselves, seeking to reduce risks as much as possible without negatively affecting economic activity, the jobs of our people and the quality of life of our people “said the governor.
“The statistics are clear: vaccination saves lives and significantly reduces the chances of infection and severe disease. Everyone to get vaccinated. We must also continue with prudent measures to avoid infections and prevent more deaths, “he added.
“COVID-19 is not going to go away”
According to data updated as of Sunday, the virus’s positivity rate on the island is 3.1%. This metric has been on the rise throughout November as the Thanksgiving and holiday festivities approach. As of October 31, it was 1.8% and has been on the rise ever since.
However, the former epidemiologist of the State Angeles Rodriguez He opined that the measures announced by the governor in light of the increase in cases are insufficient for immediate effect.
“It seems to me that these measures are very positive in the long term. At the moment in which there is a rebound, I understand that other actions must be taken, because the vaccine takes time to be effective “he explained.
Both Rodríguez and the president of the College of Surgeons of Puerto Rico, Victor Ramos, they appealed to people to avoid virus outbreaks.
“The reality is that we have in our hands the opportunity to return to low numbers and that this does not get out of control”Ramos pointed out.
For his part, Mellado emphasized the importance of people being fully vaccinated because the end of the pandemic has not yet been decreed.
“The COVID is not going away. We will continue to have positive cases of COVID. The important thing here is that, to the extent that we are vaccinated, we will be more protected to have hospitalizations and much more protected for mortality. Certainly, we are concerned that there are festive events coming where we know that last year we had an increase in cases, but we did not have the vaccine. You have to remember that the vaccine began on December 15, ”said Mellado.
“COVID-19 is here to stay and we have to find a scientific way to protect ourselves”emphasized the official.
Mellado recognized that even more than 800,000 people on the island have not been vaccinated. The agency has also reinforced the campaign for eligible people to come to receive the third dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
Mellado stressed that people who received the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine should receive a booster dose two months later.
In the case of those who were vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna drugs, they are eligible for a booster if they are 65 or older, if they are between 18 and 64 years old and work or live in high-risk environments for the coronavirus, or if they suffer any medical condition that places you in the highest risk group. They can receive it six months after their second dose.
“We want to give that third dose,” said the secretary.
You can also read: Private employers with 50 or more employees are required to require vaccination against COVID-19
Regarding the inoculation process of minors, particularly those from 5 to 11 years old, he said that they are kept in an orientation campaign so that they are vaccinated. The vaccination of this population began only a week ago on the island.
In Puerto Rico some 288,921 people, or 12.2% of the population, have received their booster dose, based on information available in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) database.
Praise for proactive action
For its part, the Scientific Coalition warned that vaccination is necessary, but it will not be enough to stop the increase in infections and the consequences in hospitalizations and deaths.
“Although scientific data show that vaccination has been effective, the data also shows that the effectiveness of the vaccine decreases over time, and that therefore, the herd immunity of Puerto Rican society will decrease unless they are implemented. vaccination boosters “, expressed Daniel Colon Ramos, President of the Coalition.
The group warned that, as the borders are reopened, restrictions are relaxed and normality returns, especially in the winter context in Europe and North America, there could be a rebound in cases that will affect Puerto Rico. The good news is that the incidence of cases in Puerto Rico is ten times lower today than it was for this date last year, the doctor noted. Carmen Zorrilla, member of the scientific group.
However, in recent weeks they have observed an increase in cases that could be “the beginning of a new rebound.” In just one week, cases increased from less than 100 a day, to over 135 a day.
“The incidence of cases is still low in Puerto Rico, but the acceleration in the increase of cases, at the moment, is cause for concern, since we have observed that similar accelerations in the past have resulted in significant spikes. We also recognize that this increase in cases occurs in the face of holidays where there will be greater family and social gatherings, and in a context where the effectiveness of vaccination is decreasing for people vaccinated more than six months ago (with Pfizer or Moderna) or ago. more than two months (with Johnson & Johnson), with hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans is this susceptible group “Zorrilla added.
Similarly, the epidemiologist Fabiola Cruz, recalled the importance of home antigen tests are confirmed with molecular tests (PCR).
“Antigen tests can give false negatives, that is, the test can be negative for a person who has the virus, giving false assurance. In addition, it is important to carry out the tests even if they are vaccinated “, he pointed.