Hundreds of employees file complaints in OSHA against employers in midst of pandemic

The Puerto Rico Occupational Safety and Health Administration (PROSHA) received 680 complaints against employers related to the COVID-19 crisis from March 14 to April 29. Of those complaints, at least 124 were reported in April between the 1st and the 29, just before the government began the partial reopening after the curfew, and in the same week that the number of cases of infection by COVID-19 was expected to peak. The Department of Labor and Human Resources (DTRH, in Spanish) sent a chart where the total number of complaints differed from the figures it provided in writing to answer specific questions from the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish). The DTRH’s data shows that of the pandemic-related complaints filed against employers who kept their operations going during the quarantine, at least 50 come from hospital employees and eight from health service centers throughout the island. Among these: the HIMA Hospital in Bayamón; Auxilio Mutuo in San Juan; Menonita in Humacao; San Pablo in Caguas; Perea in Mayagüez; La Concepción in San Germán; and, Pavía in Toa Baja.

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.

CPI Sues Demographic Registry for Third Time for Failing to Deliver Full Information on Deaths

The Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) today turned to the court with a writ for mandamus for access to information claiming the Demographic Registry has not fully delivered the database on the causes of death in Puerto Rico, as requested five weeks ago. The lawsuit filed at the San Juan Superior Court names as defendant Wanda Llovet Díaz, director of the Puerto Rico Demographic Registry, and the Commonwealth. It responds to investigations done by the CPI into deaths on the island. “It’s unbelievable that at a time like this, and with the urgency that people have to feel some degree of trust and certainty about how the issue of deaths from COVID-19 is being handled, the island is being failed again. The request for the complete database and death certificates is identical to the one that the CPI submitted after Hurricane María and for which, as we know, the Superior Court ordered its full disclosure in 2018,” said Carla Minet, executive director of the CPI.

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.