Govt Under Fire After 1st Puerto Rican Coronavirus Death

Mar 29, 2020
4:13 PM

Laundromat owner Jesús Vázquez pauses before closing his shop to comply with the government’s curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the new coronavirus, which is shuttering all non-essential businesses for two weeks in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Friday, March 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

By DÁNICA COTO, Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Government officials faced heavy criticism for their response to the coronavirus outbreak in Puerto Rico as details trickled out about the newest death reported Friday in the U.S. territory, which was the first for a resident.

The victim was identified as a 48-year-old teacher at a private school in the popular tourist town of Rincón, a magnet for people who have moved from the U.S. mainland and where tourists recently flaunted pictures of themselves on empty beaches amid a curfew.

The woman was married to a police officer in Rincón, and her death prompted authorities to shut down a police station in the northwestern coastal town late Wednesday and order all 30 officers home for a two-week quarantine. Officials said then that they were still awaiting test results, and on Friday they announced she had tested positive for the coronavirus.

The situation alarmed tourists and locals alike as some politicians called on Puerto Rico’s government to quickly test all those who came in contact with the woman, including students at the Rincón Christian Academy.

“They haven’t done what needs to be done,” Puerto Rico Rep. José Pérez said in a phone interview. “They have to act more quickly.”

Jorge Otero, owner of a fruit and vegetables kiosk, wears protective gloves while working during a government’s curfew aimed at curbing coronavirus cases that has shuttered all non-essential businesses for two weeks, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Thursday, March 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

Puerto Rico has reported more than 60 confirmed cases and three deaths, with one doctor who leads a government task force warning that he believes more than 600 people on the island have been infected. The other two deaths were elderly tourists from New York and Italy. President Donald Trump issued a major disaster declaration for the territory Friday.

Police spokesman Axel Valencia and other government officials said they were now waiting for results of a coronavirus test on the husband, but the newspaper El Nuevo Día quoted the officer as saying he had not yet been tested.

Gregorio Matías, vice president of a police union in Puerto Rico, criticized the government’s response, noting that not all officers who worked at the Rincon station have been tested.

“They were late to react,” he said of authorities, adding that police have repeatedly asked for more protective equipment as they work 12-hour shifts to ensure compliance with an initial two-week curfew that has been extended to April 12.

The curfew, in part, requires all nonessential businesses to remain closed for a month. Grocery stores can open, except for the Econo in Rincón, which is one of the town’s largest markets. It shuttered Friday after announcing that the son of the woman who died worked there.