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.

Hospitals in Puerto Rico don’t run COVID-19 tests on the deceased

One of the most important factors to confirm the real status of the COVID-19 case fatality rate in Puerto Rico is to conduct molecular tests on people who die and who had any symptoms of the disease. However, hospitals — which is where most people on the island die — have not been testing all suspected patients and none of the deceased, Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Health Lorenzo González Feliciano admitted on Tuesday to questions from the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish). More than 60% of deaths in Puerto Rico occur in hospitals, according to Demographic Registry data. The official answered the question during a press conference on Tuesday about the status of COVID-19 on the island, when he also reported that disease-related deaths were already at 64 and that, of those, 19 were detected through the annotations that doctors make on death certificates they send to the Demographic Registry of Puerto Rico. González said some of those cases lack confirmatory tests, but did not specify how many of them, and answered categorically that the hospitals have not been taking the samples.