COVID-19: The Excess of Hundreds of Deaths in Puerto Rico Has Not Been Investigated by the Government

Atypical death trends during the pandemic have gone unnoticed, but expert analysis begins to identify the keys as to why they occurred and what lessons they hold for the immediate future. By Omaya Sosa Pascual and Jeniffer Wiscovitch | Center for Investigative Journalism

Six months after the government reported the arrival of COVID-19 in Puerto Rico, more than 600 people have officially died from the disease but, in addition, hundreds have died from other causes that have gone unnoticed and that could be directly or indirectly linked to the pandemic. These excess deaths have been masked in the total mortality figure due to the sharp drop that has been registered in deaths due to crimes, accidents, and trauma on the island. The Department of Health (DS, in Spanish) has been using so far the monthly death toll number on the island to monitor the status of COVID-19, without detailing the significant changes in deaths from specific causes. These deaths, identified as deaths in excess of those that regularly occur in Puerto Rico, happened mainly during the period of the initial strict lockdown that the government of Puerto Rico implemented between March and April, and were focused on chronic conditions that have been associated as high risk for the virus, according to an investigation by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) that included mortality data and interviews with more than a dozen experts.

COVID-19: Exceso de cientos de muertes en Puerto Rico no ha sido investigado por el Gobierno

Las muertes por encima de lo usual durante el periodo de la pandemia han pasado desapercibidas, pero el análisis de expertos comienza a identificar las claves de por qué fallecieron y qué lecciones para el futuro inmediato nos dejan esos decesos. Por Omaya Sosa Pascual y Jeniffer Wiscovitch | Centro de Periodismo Investigativo

A seis meses de que el Gobierno informara de la llegada de COVID-19 a Puerto Rico, han muerto más de 600 personas oficialmente por la enfermedad, pero además han fallecido cientos por otras causas que han pasado desapercibidas y que podrían estar vinculadas directa o indirectamente a la pandemia. Estas muertes en exceso han estado enmascaradas en la cifra total de mortalidad debido a la fuerte baja que se ha registrado en fallecimientos por crímenes, accidentes y traumas en la Isla. El total mensual de muertes en el país ha sido la cifra que el Departamento de Salud (DS) ha utilizado hasta el momento públicamente para monitorear el estado de situación de COVID-19, sin detallar los cambios significativos en fallecimientos por causas específicas. Estos decesos, identificados como muertes en exceso a las que regularmente se producen en Puerto Rico, ocurrieron principalmente durante el periodo del estricto lockdown inicial implementado por el Gobierno de Puerto Rico entre marzo y abril, y se concentraron en condiciones crónicas que han sido asociadas como de alto riesgo ante el virus, según una investigación del Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (CPI) que incluyó datos de mortalidad y entrevistas a más de una decena de expertos.

Housing Options Don’t Get Off the Ground After Hurricane María, Earthquakes

A bathroom and a bedroom is what’s left of Alexandra Camacho Quiñones’ home in the Amalia Marín sector of the Playa de Ponce neighborhood in Ponce. Her house was destroyed three years ago after Hurricane María, and as time passes, the despair of not having a new home for her and her family of three takes a toll. She has been waiting for a year for the Department of Housing’s (DH) Repair, Rebuild and Relocate (R3) program to begin rebuilding her home. “I keep calling every two weeks, with the same anxiety,” she said. She recalls that she has been in contact with the R3 program regularly since last October.

Puerto Rico’s Chronically Ill Health System Blocks Effective COVID-19 Response

While Joshua James Sánchez Antillón was hospitalized, seriously ill due to COVID-19, his father, Luis Ángel “Wichy” Sánchez Soler, got a bill for $65,000. It did not even itemize the services the hospital was providing. The invoice issued by HIMA San Pablo Caguas hospital stated that, if signed, he would have 15 days to pay the amount. Wichy Sánchez Soler, who at that time was mourning his father’s death, also due to COVID-19, decided not to sign because he didn’t know what they were charging him for, or how he was going to be able to pay. At that point, the hospital did not offer advice or payment options.

More Deaths in Puerto Rico than Announced During the Pandemic

Deaths in Puerto Rico have increased over the past three months despite the few COVID-19 losses reported on the island and the drop in fatalities from accidents and crimes due to quarantine confinement, as compared to 2019, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) found. This, contrary to what was publicly said by Health Secretary Lorenzo González Feliciano and by the director of the Demographic Registry, Wanda Llovet the first week of May when the Department of Health sent the media the data on the deaths of March and April, without making the distinction that they were still significantly incomplete. On May 5, Secretary González Feliciano said in the Jugando Pelota Dura television program that deaths for the month of April totaled 1,750, “when typically in Puerto Rico we  have 2,500 deaths per month.” “How do you explain that? Possibly with the reduction in crime, the decrease in other conditions, but what has been done in Puerto Rico has resulted in a significant impact on the absolute number of deaths,” he continued in reference to the Government of Puerto Rico’s COVID-19 contention measures.