Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Experts worry ‘Puerto Rico is going to be ignored’ during coronavirus pandemic

Puerto Rico has taken drastic measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, such as implementing an islandwide curfew, banning cruise ships and closing schools and all nonessential businesses.

The island’s governor, Wanda Vazquez, wants to go a step further: She has requested that the Federal Aviation Administration suspend domestic and international flights to Puerto Rico for 14 days to stem the pandemic’s spread. The FAA told NBC News in a statement that they’re reviewing the island’s request.

The effort comes as officials focus on not overwhelming Puerto Rico’s already fragile health care system. Access to resources and medical services has been a problem in Puerto Rico well before the coronavirus outbreak. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, 72 of the island’s 78 municipalities are considered to be medically underserved and face “unmet health care needs.”

“The main concern is whether this pandemic would be the last straw that causes the collapse of our health care system because our system has been deteriorating,” Dr. Victor Ramos, president of Puerto Rico’s Physicians Association, told NBC News. “Hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices, labs have no money. They have been biting the bullet for a while now and many are being recruited in the U.S. because there are shortages everywhere.”

But the coronavirus pandemic is set to test Puerto Rico even more. “The risk of this pandemic getting out of control is higher on an island. If we need more resources, we can’t easily go to another state and have access to another hospital. If hospitals get saturated, we have nowhere else to go,” Arturo Massol-Deyá, a microbiology professor at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez, told NBC News. “That’s a big reason why our approach needs to be aggressive from the start instead of waiting for things to get as bad as they did in Italy or Spain.