Officials in Puerto Rico try to balance public health precautions with economic stability
As coronavirus cases begin to surge again in many parts of the United States, Puerto Rico is stuck in a difficult situation. The US territory had dealt with massive debt issues, a failing electrical grid, and the ravages of Hurricane Maria prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus. All of this has occurred with generally insufficient assistance from the federal government. With cases of coronavirus rising once again as states begin to relax restrictions on businesses and public areas, officials in Puerto Rico are now put in a particularly difficult position themselves, stuck between cautiousness about public health and attempting to handle economic struggles across the territory.
Like many places across the United States, and around the world, officials implemented extensive closures of public and private operations to limit in-person contact in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus in March. Now, like many other places as well, Puerto Rico has begun to relax restrictions on businesses and in-person contact. With businesses closed and less economic activity, Puerto Rico now is also a growing crisis of unemployment, which puts officials in a difficult position.
New restrictions are now being put in place in areas of the United States in an attempt to once again address rising cases and public health concerns that accompany and states are beginning to shut down parts of the economy. These measures are in the best interest to ensure that the spread of coronavirus does now become uncontrolled, stretching medical facilities and health care professionals beyond their viable carrying capacity. Some in Puerto Rico, however, are fearful that shutting down businesses once again will cause economic troubles for the territory. Jorge Argüelles, president of the United Retailers Center, stated in a recent interview that it would be devastating for business to be required to close once again. Argüelles further stated that it would worsen already high unemployment rates in Puerto Rico, and many businesses would not be able to endure the economic downfall.
This raises difficult questions for Governor Wanda Vázquez ® and other officials in Puerto Rico in how to move forward. Public health concerns are deemed to be a priority, and Governor Vázquez was the first governor in the United States to call a close to businesses and stay-at-home orders for the public. This second wave of cases, and officials having already begun loosening restrictions on businesses and the public, creates a new problem, however. Should new restrictions once again be put into place? Should masks be required in public? Should another shutdown be implemented? While only time will tell how these questions are answered, economic difficulties coupled with a second growth in coronavirus cases is a central issue for public officials in Puerto Rico.