Parents of Public School Students Demand Access to Food Distribution

The testimonies of dozens of families with students in Puerto Rico’s public school system who need to be fed during the curfew established to control the spread of COVID-19 exposed by organizations that work with children and communities, have not been enough to convince the Department of Education to open school cafeterias to prepare balanced meals for carry-out. Organizations such as the Red por los Derechos de la Niñez y la Juventud en Puerto Rico and the Instituto Nueva Escuela (INE, in Spanish) have documented this population’s point of view. The INE survey, in which 2,700 families of children in the public Montessori system participated, showed that 68% are concerned about providing food for their children and 56% said they would use the school cafeteria if it were available. In addition, 4% of Montessori school teachers assistants confirmed they knew cases where a student or their family could experience food shortages due to this emergency. Rosalyn Hernández, community leader of the Playita sector in San Juan, confirmed this concern in a video were the mother of a 16-year-old and a six-month-old baby said, “the hardest part of this situation is that you run out of food and you can’t go out (because of the curfew), you can’t work.

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.

Nearly Three Years of Ongoing Delays Mark Reality of Southern Area School Communities

Puerto Rico lost more than 684 public schools during the last decade due to the closure policy promoted by administrations of both main political parties and natural disasters such as Hurricane María. The closings, which spiked under the tenure of former Education Secretary Julia B. Keleher — currently facing federal charges — are coupled with the loss of those schools that will not be able to reopen due to the damage caused by the earthquakes in the southern region that took place in early 2020. Although the government has mandated a curfew to deal with the coronavirus pandemic that extends to early May, returning to classrooms will be harder for students in the municipalities included in the disaster declaration the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) effected after the earthquakes. Within the 32 municipalities under the earthquake disaster declaration, 14 qualify to receive public assistance from FEMA to repair or rebuild schools. Although the survey was limited to a “visual inspection” to identify “significant damage caused by the seismic events registered to date,” the engineers contracted by three government agencies concluded that 30 of 157 schools evaluated in these 14 towns are not apt to reopen because they “show severe structural damage.”

Furthermore, they classified 56 of those 157 schools with the yellow code because “they saw some structural damage that requires attention,” so the structure can only be partially used.

Puerto Rico Health Department’s COVID-19 math is wrong

Bad news about the COVID-19 epidemic in Puerto Rico hit this morning like a bucket of cold water: the Health Department had been incorrectly reporting data on infections on the island for the past four weeks. Health Secretary Lorenzo González acknowledged today to the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) that the agency has been mixing the results of molecular tests, which confirm that a person has the virus, with results of serological tests or “rapid test kits,” which should not be used to inform infection status, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The implications: There has been a double, perhaps even a triple count of test results in Puerto Rico’s official COVID-19 statistics. For example, a person who tested positive on the rapid test and then had a molecular or “PCR” test confirming that positive, it can be counted as two separate cases in the numbers reported by the Government. 

The CPI asked if the current number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Puerto Rico has a double or even triple count.

Where to get tested for COVID-19 in Puerto Rico?

“But you don’t look that sick. Did you walk here, or did someone drive you?”

“Your cough isn’t a dry cough, like the virus. It’s a wet cough, like a cold.”

On Mar. 19, Carlos Del Valle, a 65 year-old man claimed that a doctor at the Río Piedras Medical Center refused to run the COVID-19 test on him, despite having a referral from his doctor, who told him he could be at risk because he was showing symptoms and had been exposed to people infected with the virus. “I’m an old person, I have diabetes and I feel weak,” the man told the doctor, who did not think those circumstances were enough to authorize the test administered by the Health Department.

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.

No man’s land: Buying tests and supplies for the COVID-19 emergency in Puerto Rico

The Government of Puerto Rico’s procurement process for materials and equipment to deal with the coronavirus emergency has been plagued with mistakes, delays, inefficiency, questionable purchases and a lack of details. The Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) interviewed more than three sources who identified Adil Rosa Rivera as responsible for buying supplies and equipment for the emergency, such as ventilators, tests and protective equipment. Up until a few days ago, Rosa Rivera coordinated the procurement process, first through the Health Department and then through the Bureau for Emergency and Disaster Management’s (NMEAD, in Spanish) Emergency Operations Center (COE). From the COE, together with Medical Task Force members Dr. Juan Salgado and Dr. Segundo Rodríguez, they have coordinated what to buy and from whom, three sources confirmed. Rosa Rivera previously worked as the Family Department’s Administration Director for the Caguas region, and until last week was in charge of the Health Department’s Undersecretary of Administration office.

Passengers arrive in Puerto Rico from areas of greatest contagion by coronavirus in the US

The spike in COVID-19 cases in regions with the highest concentration of Puerto Ricans living in the United States, added to the historic volume of traffic of passengers arriving from those places through the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport could represent an open route for the transmission of the virus. In Puerto Rico, epidemiology, public health, and infectious disease experts interviewed by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) agreed. Upon reviewing data of the areas of greater COVID-19 infection in the United States, it appears that New York, New Jersey, and Florida are among the first 10 places in the spread of the virus. According to 2018 Census data, these three states are where the most Puerto Ricans live. Most of the flights that arrived at the airport between Mar.