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Puerto Rico Battles COVID-19 Surge, Imposes New Measures

SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico today imposed new measures to fight a surge in COVID-19 cases that has overwhelmed medical staff in the U.S. territory and led to temporary shortages of testing kits.

All private businesses that cater to the public must close from midnight to 5 a.m., no alcohol will be sold during those hours and gatherings of more than 250 people are banned. The measures will remain in place until Jan. 18 and come as the island of 3.3 million people reports a more than 30 percent positivity rate, the highest since the pandemic began.

The government has reported more than 201,000 confirmed cases and more than 3,300 deaths. Officials note that a third of all cases reported since the pandemic began have occurred in the past month, with many linked to a two-day outdoor concert held in December. The number of daily cases per 100,000 reported in Puerto Rico rose from three to 225 in just three weeks, according to statistician Rafael Irizarry. More than 500 people are hospitalized.

Almost 85% of people in Puerto Rico have received the first dose and more than 70 percent have received the second one. However, at least 40% have not received a booster shot.

The increase in cases has caused temporary shortages of home testing kits, with people taking to social media to share places where they’ve run out or are still available, while some government-run testing sites have closed early after exhausting testing kits for the day. Meanwhile, the Association of Hospitals of Puerto Rico urged people to stop visiting emergency rooms to request tests because the demand was overwhelming and preventing staff from treating urgent cases.

As a result of the spike, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi has ordered all businesses that sell food and drinks to reduce their capacity to 50% indoors and 75% outdoors until Jan. 16. Restaurant employees and those who work in health and education also were ordered to receive their booster shots by Jan. 15, while customers are required to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter any business that sells food or drinks.

In addition, the government recently required that all cruise ship passengers who disembark must be fully vaccinated and provide a negative test taken 48 hours prior to arrival, a move that caused several cruise ship companies to cancel visits to Puerto Rico.

Last month, Pierluisi announced that all those flying from the U.S. mainland to Puerto Rico must present a negative test taken 48 hours prior regardless of their vaccination status. Passengers lacking a test must take one within 48 hours of arrival or face a heavy fine, while those who are not vaccinated must remain in quarantine for seven days regardless of whether they test negative.

On Monday, the University of Puerto Rico, the island’s largest public university, announced it would offer classes online for all of January given the rise in cases.

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