Late yesterday, Governor Wanda Vazquez Garced issued Executive Order No. 2020-023 laying out the actions to be taken in response to COVID-19, the coronavirus which was recently declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.
Most businesses must close from Sunday, March 15th at 6:00 p.m. until Sunday, March 30, 2020. 14 days is the required quarantine period for COVID-19.
Some businesses may remain open. Broadly speaking, the excepted businesses are those in the supply chain for food, medications, medical supplies, or fuel. Banks will be allowed to stay open, along with gas stations and grocery stores. Food delivery services and drive-throughs may stay open, as will supermarkets, pharmacies, and nursing homes.
The order specifically mandates the closure of businesses that encourage people to gather in groups, such as concert halls, nightclubs, restaurants, casinos, theaters, gyms, bars, and game rooms.
Workers in businesses that are allowed to stay open will be free to travel to work. Others may leave their homes between 5:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.to buy food or medicine, to attend medical appointments, or to help people in greater danger from the coronavirus.
Otherwise, residents are asked to stay at home between 5:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. There is also a curfew requiring people to stay at home from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. unless they are going to work at one of the excepted businesses.
Schools have already been closed.
Flattening the curve
The restrictions in Puerto Rico are similar to those in states like Ohio, California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, and Washington, all of which have ordered restaurants and bars to close. The city of Hoboken, New Jersey, has implemented a curfew. Miami and Fort Lauderdale have closed public beaches.
The coronavirus spreads quickly. Allowed to move through the population, COVID-19 could result in a large number of cases at one time. The healthcare system could be overwhelmed by the number of people needing care. If the spread of the virus is slowed, the same number of cases could be handled over a longer period of time.
While States are worrying that their health care systems will not be able to meet the needs of a fast-moving virus, Puerto Rico is in a particularly vulnerable position as doctors have been leaving the island in large numbers for a decade and there are increased logistical concerns with transporting medical supplies from the mainland.
Puerto Rico also has an older population and more people suffering from chronic diseases than the U.S. population as a whole. This means that more people on the Island are at risk of death from COVID-19 than in the States.
Governor Vazquez said, when announcing the restrictions, that people had not heeded earlier warnings and were not staying at home without mandatory closures and curfews. The new regulations come with fines and imprisonment for rule-breakers.