The Reasons for the Limited Number of Molecular Tests in Puerto Rico

Finding molecular tests that confirm a COVID-19 diagnosis in Puerto Rico is currently quite challenging, and the government restricts who has access to them. One of the reasons is the lack of materials such as reagents, the chemicals necessary to detect the coronavirus. “All reference labs have a need for reagents,” said Ilia Toledo, president of the Toledo Clinical Laboratory, one of the largest in Puerto Rico. In addition, the 200 members of the Association of Clinical Laboratories face problems getting swabs for sampling, its President Juan Rexach confirmed. The standard justification given for the lack of swabs, transport vials, and chemical reagents — all necessary to administer and process these tests — is fierce competition for these supplies throughout the U.S. and around the world.

Puerto Rico never set up an information network to gather data on COVID-19

For almost a decade, the government of Puerto Rico wasted the opportunity to put together an information network that would have provided real-time data to save lives during a pandemic, such as the one caused by COVID-19. When Secretary Lorenzo González left the position as head of the Department of Health (DH) in 2013, that project was in a very early stage. Upon returning to steer the DH in 2020, the agency was not only mired in corruption scandals and mismanagement of the response to the pandemic, but the Puerto Rico Health Information Network (PRHIN) was not operating. PRHIN would have allowed the electronic exchange of medical records among all health care providers, to better care for patients, and send real-time alerts to the DH to monitor any public health threat. The information network system, which has cost more than $ 7.7 million in federal funds, should have been ready six years ago.

Puerto Rico nunca implantó una red de información para tener los datos correctos sobre la COVID-19

Durante casi una década, el Gobierno de Puerto Rico echó a perder la oportunidad de preparar una red de información que hubiera permitido tener datos en tiempo real para salvar vidas durante una pandemia, como la causada por la COVID-19. Cuando el secretario Lorenzo González dejó en 2013 el puesto de jefe del Departamento de Salud (DS), ese proyecto estaba en desarrollo. Al regresar en 2020 a dirigir la agencia, no sólo se encontraba sumida en escándalos de corrupción y malos manejos de la respuesta ante la pandemia, sino que la Corporación de Intercambio Electrónico de Información de Salud de Puerto Rico (PRHIN, por sus siglas en inglés) no funcionaba. El PRHIN hubiera permitido compartir los récords médicos de los pacientes entre todos los proveedores de servicios médicos, para darles un mejor tratamiento, y enviar una alerta en tiempo real al DS para hacer una vigilancia de cualquier amenaza a la salud pública. El sistema, que ha costado más de $7.7 millones de fondos federales, debió estar listo hace seis años.

Federal government faces COVID-19 crisis blindly, lacking a risk monitoring system that would include pandemics

President Donald Trump’s administration is steering the response to the coronavirus like a pilot who flies blindfolded. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for 12 years has failed to comply with its obligation to operate a centralized digital platform to share information, as close as possible to real time, about threats to public health such as pandemics. Now it lacks that tool to avoid deaths related to COVID-19. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has filed three reports, two during the Trump term and one during former President Barack Obama’s tenure, noting that HHS has failed in its legal obligation to design the enhanced situational awareness network. Furthermore, the GAO sent a letter on March 28, 2019 to the highest federal health authority in the US, HHS Secretary Alex Azar II, outlining more than 42 critical actions that the agency has not complied with, including the implementation of this tool.