Puerto Rico Gets Resourceful about Coronavirus Response

Puerto Rico is facing some special challenges when it comes to the response to the pandemic. A shortage of doctors, tests, emergency responders, medical supplies, and funding for the healthcare system combine to make it more difficult for Puerto Rico to handle COVID-19 cases. The governor called for strict curfews early on, keeping the numbers of cases down, but now the ACLU is suing the cash-strapped government of Puerto Rico for putting those restrictions in place.

Puerto Ricans are stepping forward with resourceful solutions.

Tredé, a design studio specializing in 3-D printing, has collaborated with National Safety Equipment Supply to produce face shields for healthcare workers. The two Puerto Rican companies hope to be able to combat the shortages of protective gear and keep healthcare professionals safer on the job.

3-D printing uses special machines to print three dimensional objects from plastic filament. Repurposing face shields which were already on the Island using innovative design will produce thousands of face shields without the delays Puerto Rico has been facing. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is in short supply worldwide, but Puerto Rico was also initially prevented from buying any PPE from suppliers outside the United States. FEMA recently dropped this restriction, but it was yet another example of red tape delays in Puerto Rico’s response to the pandemic.

On the other end of the spectrum from small businesses is Bacardi Rum, the largest rum distillery in the world, which has shifted production from rum to ethanol. Working with Olein Refinery, Bacardi is producing hand sanitizers, another product in short supply. Ethanol is the main ingredient in effective hand sanitizers. The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control advise that sanitizers must contain 70% ethanol to kill the coronavirus.

The hand sanitizers are being given to delivery workers, firefighters, police officers, and to the local United Way for distribution to those who need it.

Makers Against COVID-19 in Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico Rise Up are community groups working to help organize these and similar efforts. They use Facebook as a clearing house for people wanting to use their own 3-D printers, or to donate filament for printing.

Even as they celebrate these and other responses from the entrepreneur community, industry, and community organizations, some in Puerto Rico worry that the government is not stepping up.

In the meantime, they are rising to the occasion and doing whatever needs to be done.

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