New measures seeking to strengthen efforts to detect COVID-19 in Puerto Rico are steps in the right direction. The government and the community of specialists have a responsibility to ensure that testing expands by including new potential patients.
Allowing physicians to request tests to be performed by private laboratories, without requiring authorization by the Health Department, accelerates an indispensable process for prompt detection of possible positive cases. This is essential to stop the spread of the virus.
Participation by the medical class and laboratories should help generate fast valuable data on the spread, which is essential to better understand the prevalence of the disease on the island, to control it.
Health authorities must produce a clear map of the data regarding the virus in Puerto Rico. Disclosing transparent data daily reduces uncertainties and allows the government and the private health sector to make critical, informed decisions on both public health and the economic impact.
The world´s leading health authority, the World Health Organization (WHO), has reiterated the central recommendation that isolating, testing and treating every suspected case, as well as contact tracing, should be the backbone of the response in every country.” That premise is the best hope of preventing the spread of communicable disease, the agency adds.
Since testing began last week, the Puerto Rico Health Department reported 57 samples, with 21 awaiting results Wednesday. A sixth case was detected at the Veterans Hospital.
So far, the private health sector is making progress in preparing facilities and resources to support the response. Private hospitals are setting up isolated medical care rooms in tents to handle a potential wave of cases. The Medical Center is doing the same.
Health researchers and epidemiologists have also designed an online platform to monitor potential virus outbreaks in real-time using questionnaires that allow people to report symptoms, even if they have not received medical attention.
Meanwhile, the government has identified a hospital center to house people who enter the island through Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport and who test positive.
Likewise, in face of economic difficulties caused by the emergency, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced ordered the elimination of the Sales and Use Tax on basic need products, which are essential to follow hygiene and prevention recommendations.
Efforts to expand testing must involve identifying and diligently responding to positive cases to stop the spread.
It will also be important to keep channels of communication with people open. Health experts have raised alarms about the government’s reluctance to handle and communicate relevant information about this emergency. They claim that following the guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has left the island behind.
The government must address these concerns diligently to reduce anxiety among the population.
Asymptomatic people can spread the virus and that young people are no less at risk from the pandemic.
Rigorous and transparent analysis and accurate information can build public confidence. This is a key step in stopping the spread of COVID-19 on our island and ensuring that we stop this virus united.