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Puerto Rico imposes stricter measures amid coronavirus spike

by Dánica Coto
| August 19, 2020 3:21 PM

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico’s governor announced Wednesday that she will place the U.S. territory on a 24-hour lockdown every Sunday as part of stricter measures to fight a spike in coronavirus cases.

Gyms, theaters and bars will remain closed and only restaurants with outdoor areas will be allowed to seat people, but at 25% capacity. Gov. Wanda Vázquez said violators will be shut down for a month.

In addition, beaches will remain open only to those doing exercise such as runners and surfers, and businesses, malls and banks will be allowed to operate at only 25% capacity.

The new measures go into effect Saturday and will remain in place until Sept. 11. Face masks remain mandatory.

“We have to adjust to living in a new reality,” Vázquez said, blaming the jump in cases on “careless” people.

Vázquez also said it remains to be seen whether in-person classes at public schools will start in mid-September as scheduled.

“We are approaching a terrible autumn," she said.

A 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew remains in place from Monday to Saturday, and on Sundays, only people going to pharmacies, grocery stores, hospitals or medical appointments will be allowed to leave home.

The announcement was welcomed by health experts, but many said the new measures should have been implemented last week as cases continue to soar.

The U.S. territory of 3.2 million people has reported more than 12,400 confirmed cases of coronavirus infections and at least 356 deaths, including that of a 19-year-old woman announced Wednesday. Among those who have tested positive is Carlos Méndez, president of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives.

A 24-hour record of 644 cases were reported Aug. 4, Dr. José Rodríguez Orengo with the Puerto Rico Public Health Trust told The Associated Press.

“It was a number we had never before seen,” he said. “This pandemic is still on the rise.”

However, Rodríguez noted Puerto Rico is not yet reporting worrisome numbers of people in intensive care units or on respirators, which he said reflects the fact that 80% of people who have been infected are younger than 60.

He blamed the spike in cases on people coming from the U.S. mainland to visit family and friends, a lack of a robust contact tracing system and a weak educational campaign.

“At one point, we had the virus under control. Now the virus has us under its control,” he said.