This letter was delivered to Puerto Rican Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced by a coalition of educators and parents demanding the government step up its efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus. As of April 7, Puerto Rico has 531 confirmed cases, and 21 Covid-19 deaths. However, the battering the island has taken in recent years from hurricanes and earthquakes, not to mention year of brutal austerity measure overseen by Washington, D.C. have left its healthcare system vulnerable. Here, educators in the Puerto Rican Union of Teachers (FMPR) and allied organizations demand emergency measures be taken to prevent a disaster, including the manufacturing of ventilators, importation of medicines from Cuba, and diversion of monies set aside to pay foreign debtors to life-saving health care and social preparedness.
April 6, 2020
Hon. Wanda Vázquez Garced
La Fortaleza, San Juan, Puerto Rico
To the Honorable Wanda Vázquez Garced,
We offer you our cordial greetings. As the COVID-19 contagion emergency progresses, our organizations and members are concerned that measures taken to identify affected people, isolate them, and treat them effectively be accelerated.
We are greatly concerned about the delay in acquiring tests to detect cases of people infected by the virus, a situation aggravated by the recent cancellation of an order for 1,000,000 tests, of which – as was reported by the Medical Task Force itself a week ago – 50,000 were to be molecular tests. Such tests make it possible to identify infections in asymptomatic people. Without these tests, it is not possible to obtain accurate data on the epidemic and to control it.
We expect your office to provide information on the acquisition of tests and their arrival date, including molecular tests. Last night at a press conference, the arrival of 200,000 tests was announced and they are at the airport. However, one week ago it was publicly reported that these tests would be serological, meaning that it is still not possible to identify asymptomatic people.
The acquisition of ventilators must be accelerated, and efforts now underway by the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez (RUM) to fabricate or repair ventilators at its facility must be combined with production in workshops or businesses that have the capacity to do so on our island. It was reported that the peak of the pandemic will fall between April 15 and May 8. Secretary of Health, Lorenzo González, stated that, in the event of a massive increase in infections, there will not be sufficient equipment to attend to all those infected.
Protective equipment donated by the Chamber of Commerce of China must be immediately distributed. At the same time, the production of necessary protective equipment for our healthcare professionals, including HazMats, must be ordered.
Likewise, it is important that pharmaceutical companies produce medications necessary to treat this pandemic. We have become aware that there is a shortage of sedatives in New York hospitals so that the sickest patients cannot be offered a dignified death without pain. We do not want that state of affairs to come to pass in our country.
It is not acceptable for the government to hold the population accountable, so long as it does not provide us with the basic tools to confront the epidemic. We therefore await your affirmative action on the above requests. Moreover, it is important that the municipalities get involved in distributing masks, disinfectants, and alcohol to residents. And they must disinfect – two to three times a week – the streets and areas used by people on a daily basis, such as supermarket and pharmacy parking lots.
People’s lives are being threatened, thus the approximately $9 billion that remains in the General Fund reserve marked for making debt payments to bondholders must be released immediately. Our people cannot be allowed to die while this reserve, which can be used to cover the country’s medical expenses, exists.
Social isolation is important, but it will not defeat this threat alone. We need equipment, fans, medications, tracking of those who have come into contact with infected persons, information on the number of people contacted by tracking, and tests to diagnose and identify the spread of the pandemic in order to isolate the infected, save lives, and stop the contagion. It was publicly announced that responsibility for this tracking information would be assigned to students at the School of Public Health at the Medical Sciences Campus and reported every night at 8:00 p.m. by the Task Force, which would give public summaries. This has not happened.
The drug Interferon is produced in Cuba and has been recognized by different countries for its effectiveness in interfering with and controlling the virus. This drug must be made available for the population. If there are remedial medicinal alternatives, it would constitute gross negligence not to request them and make them available to the sick.
You have, rightly, designated $240 million for the purchase of technology equipment for all public-school students and educators. We would like to know the status of these acquisitions to ensure that the funds for them come from the General Fund reserve. We also want to know what the distribution process will be. This measure must be accompanied by a guarantee for free broadband internet for the duration of the curfew for the entire population. The FCC has the power to authorize this. Internet in times of social distancing is an essential service necessary for everyone. It is time for you to declare it so for the benefit of all.
Finally, we have been waiting since March 26 for the legislature to approve R.C. of C. 646 that makes WIPR television and radio platforms available to supplement remote education. This would make these services accessible for more students. Two legislative sessions have passed in the Chamber since then and it has still not been placed on the calendar. We demand that it be approved in today’s session and that you, as the presiding officer, express yourself in this regard.
We await your prompt responses and attention to these proposals and plans.
Mercedes Martínez, president, FMPR
Angel Rodríguez, president, APPU
Julio López, spokesperson, Hedge Clippers
Liza M. Fournier, president, UNETE
Gerson Guzmán, president, UGT
Eva Prados, spokesperson, COA
Migdalia Santiago, president, EDUCAMOS
Carmen Warren, mother of student in Special Education program
Amárilis Pagán, Proyecto Matria