Puerto Rico medical task force outlines steps to reopen the island

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A Puerto Rico COVID-19 medical task force recommended the staged opening of the island’s economy.

The task force presented its recommendations to Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced, who appointed its members.

It said that those areas with the least likely transmission of the virus should be opened first, progressively followed by others with that had higher risk.

Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez
Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced received a recommendations about how to open the island's economy from a medical task force.

The task force suggested that the economy be opened beyond its already extremely limited level in four stages.

The first stage would include areas like construction, agriculture, and information. The second stage would include areas like finance and insurance, transportation and utilities. The third stage would include professional, commercial and technical services and retail shops. The final stage would include just education.

The task force hasn’t provided any dates as to when the first or other stages should be started. Rather, it said that this should be determined by the rate of transmission of the disease on the island. If the rate of transmission goes too high, the government may have to retreat to an earlier stage of closure, it said.

Currently the governor has allowed food markets, pharmacies, and banks to remain open. Auto repair shops and hardware shops are open with limited hours.

Unusual social distancing and hygiene measures will have to prevail for 18 to 24 months throughout society, it said, assuming that there is no treatment or vaccine for the virus.

The medical taskforce recommended that the government promote work done remotely and the spreading of shifts to include Saturdays and Sundays.

The governor also has an economic task force working on recommendations for reopening the economy. There haven’t been reports yet of its recommendations or whether it has made any.

In other economic news, Chairman of Estudios Téchnicos José Villamil reported that there are 220,000 applications for unemployment insurance on the island. There was a labor force of 1.049 million as of February 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The reported number would suggest an unemployment rate of at least 20.1%. The actual unemployment rate would be higher because some wouldn’t be able to or be qualified to apply for the insurance.

According to an April 8 report from Estudios Téchnicos, after the federal virus-related aid is figured in, the consulting firm expected a 3.2% decline in gross domestic product in Puerto Rico.

In still other news connected with the virus’s impact, the Puerto Rico Electric and Power Authority posted a notice to the Electronic Municipal Marketplace Access web site Monday indicating its cash situation.

It said that it had an operating account balance of $400 million as of April 17 as compared to a budgeted $453 million balance. The budgeted figure comes from the Feb. 14 budget. The difference is 11.7% and is primarily explained by collections from customers coming in lower than anticipated, according to PREPA.

PREPA collections started to sharply decline from budget in the week ended March 20. Gov. Wanda Vázquez ordered most of the island’s economy shutdown on March 15.

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