Gov. Pedro Pierluisi (Yanira Hernández/CB)
Pierluisi says he will be issuing new Covid-19-related orders Thursday
SAN JUAN — The Puerto Rico island-municipalities of Vieques and Culebra could reopen for tourism as soon as Monday, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said Wednesday.
When speaking to journalists during a mass Covid-19 vaccination event held in Vieques, the governor said he will be issuing on Thursday a new executive order related to the pandemic, which could authorize the entry of tourists to the small islands.
“The mayor told me before starting this event that he is going to make the decision to reopen Vieques to receive visitors. That helps the Vieques economy. The mayor asked me to support him from the central government,” the governor said, adding that he believes it is a good move. “Again, it is a balance that you have to achieve. There will be herd immunity here, so the opening is justified.”
Pierluisi said he will consult with his advisers before making a final determination.
Health Secretary Carlos Mellado told Caribbean Business that he has already signed a memorandum of understanding with the municipality to administer antigen tests on visitors when they arrive.
Pierluisi insisted that he asked Mellado and Police Chief Antonio López to continue enforcing the current executive order regarding businesses and individuals who do not comply with the preventive health measures such as masking, capacity and social distancing.
Meanwhile, the former U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Antonia Coello de Novello, somewhat distanced herself from the idea of opening tourism up, stating that only 10% of Puerto Rico’s population has been vaccinated and the possibility of the virus spreading remains latent.
The doctor said authorities should stay alert amid the emergence of two new coronavirus strains, from Brazil and New York, respectively, because they have been shown to be immune to current Covid-19 treatments.
“Prudence is crucial,” she stressed.
Coello said she fears that during Holy Week, the island will be full of tourists and infections will spike again.
“Screening at airports is crucial,” she added.
Mellado said in an aside with Caribbean Business that due to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, testing and screening must be voluntary.
On Wednesday, dozens of people came to the Maria M. Simons de Rivera School in Vieques to receive their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
The island-municipality seeks to become the second U.S. jurisdiction to have the majority of its population vaccinated. Culebra has already vaccinated 83 percent of its 1,800 residents.
In Vieques, 3,626 people have been vaccinated with the two required doses, while another 868 have received only the first dose, thus 56% of the Vieques population has been inoculated.
The vaccination drive that began Monday in Vieques targets the general population.
The director of the Vieques contact tracing system, Yanina Bernhardt, said there is still a reluctance, mainly among the youth, to get vaccinated.
“We have noticed it more in young people. We have spoken with the secretary of Health to do a campaign focused on that population, because yes, there is still a lot of misinformation about the vaccine,” Bernhardt said.
The government has spread information door-to-door and has reinforced the call to get vaccinated through local media to achieve that more than 70% of the nearly 8,000 residents to get vaccinated.
On Wednesday, with the presence of the governor and the Health secretary, the goal was to make the effort to have the nearly 1,000 people left to be vaccinated to do so by Friday.
Although the doors of the school were opened at 8:30 a.m. and around 10 a.m. there was still a line, by noon, everyone who showed up had been vaccinated.