COVID 19 Cases, Hospitalizations, and Outbreaks on the Rise in Puerto Rico

Data shows a surge in cases with a positivity rate of 5% and reports of an outbreak in an elderly home in Carolina. Of the 668 confirmed cases added last week, 40% belong to the ages of 20–39.

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To provide reliable data regarding the COVID-19 virus in Puerto Rico, and an expert interpretation of them, 9 Millones established a collaboration with the Salud Pública en Acción (Public Health in Action) project, started by epidemiologist Roberta Lugo Robles. This article was translated by María Cardona. Access the original Spanish version here.

According to Health Department data by Saturday, July 11, 2020, there were a total of 9,366 positive tests out of which 2,435 were confirmed cases, and 6,931 were probable cases. Since our last report668 confirmed cases and 1,090 probable cases were added to the numbers provided by the Health Department.

Confirmed cases show a growing tendency of approximately 4.0%

“Out of the 668 confirmed cases added during the week, 40% of the cases belong to people in ages between 20–39. This suggests that young adults are engaging in high-risk activities leading to a higher contagion risk and/or are not partaking in the preventative measures,” said epidemiologist Roberta Lugo Robles.

Two points that stand out:

  • Numbers demonstrate a rising trend of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations

  • The rate of positivity in testing surpasses 5% (this number represents the percentage of people who, out of all those who have been tested, tested positive to the virus)

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Data Regarding COVID in Puerto Rico

The distribution of confirmed cases by gender is the same as last week, 50/50. Meanwhile, the average age of positive case patients is 44 years old. However, the majority of the cases are in the 50 to 59 age group (1,260 positive cases), this is equivalent to 52% of confirmed cases.

In geographical terms, the towns of Bayamón (149 cases), Carolina (146 cases), and Ponce (82 cases) continue to have the majority of confirmed cases. Updated data by the Institute of Statistics shows that the San Juan metro area and the west of the country have the largest number of positive cases for every 10,000 inhabitants.

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Source: COSACO Puerto Rico COVID-19 Dashboard / Author: Danilo T Pérez Jr, BSc, COSACO

Furthermore, hospitalizations continue on the rise. As recently as yesterday, 174 hospitalizations due to COVID-19 were registered. This means that there have been 53 new hospitalizations compared to the 121 from the past week.

Since June 20, there’s been a constant rising trend in hospitalizations related to COVID-19. The largest number of hospitalizations was registered on April 29 with a total of 204 hospitalizations.

“It is important to observe these tendencies and have a preparation and response plan ready for hospitals before a possible uptick in the use of hospital services. Medical personnel and available resources need to be considered, including protection equipment, beds, ventilators, among other things,” highlighted the doctor.

With 14 new deaths reported this week, the total of deaths has gone up to 167 total. Out of these, 71 correspond to confirmed cases (in other words, they had a molecular test done) and 96 were identified as probable deaths. Probable deaths are deaths attributed to COVID-19 through a positive serological test or by meeting clinical or epidemiological criteria.

According to the report rendered by the Health Department’s Contact Tracking System, up until July 2, they had contacted approximately 46.0% of the people who had any type of contact with positive COVID-19 cases on the archipelago.

In total, 4,311 people have been identified as contacts. Out of these, 8.o% tested positive to the virus and 480 contacts were under continuous daily follow-ups or active tracking. The majority of contacts were identified in the region of Mayagüez (22.1%), followed by the regions of Caguas (14.6%) and Ponce (12.9%).

The convalescent cases report has not been updated in the past two weeks. In our previous data report, we reported that the June 25 preliminary recovery cases report stated that there were a total of 1,359 of these cases in Puerto Rico.

One of the COVID-19 convalescent cases is a patient with a positive molecular test (RT-PCR) who was not hospitalized despite his last positive test having been over 14 days ago.

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Puerto Rico Faces a Surge in Cases

After the end of June, there has been a rise in the number of confirmed cases in Puerto Rico. After the data published by the Department of Health, Puerto Rico had a rise in the percentage of positive cases; the positivity rate is defined as the proportion of molecular tests that came back positive among the molecular tests done.

The published data indicated that on March 30, Puerto Rico reached a positivity rate of 11.3%. Afterward, it went down and stayed below 1% between May and the middle of June. But by July 6, the positivity rate reached a peak of 5.2%.

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Source: Instituto de Estadística de Puerto Rico

The positivity rate could be an informal indicator of the scope of the virus, that is, newly diagnosed cases. The World Health Organization recommends having a rate of below 5% for at least 14 days before reopening the country and resuming economic activities.

Reported Outbreak of the Virus in P.R.

Two cases connected to a COVID-19 outbreak were detected this week. The first one was at an elderly home in Carolina where public health authorities affirmed that they investigated five cases and one death.

Meanwhile, the Health Department ordered the immediate cessation of operations of the Mamacita’s Guest House establishment in the town of Culebra “due to [them] carrying out activities that could have put the health and safety of employees and guests at risk.”

“As part of the intervention, we are orienting and evaluating the protocols of other establishments,” informed the Health Department through a statement.

What Does This Mean for the Archipelago?

Countries with a high rate of positive cases are probably not realizing the amount of tests necessary to find all those cases. Puerto Rico currently performs around 3,000 daily molecular tests, placing the country in a privileged position regarding the number of tests per capita.

“While relying on the amount of tests per capita, it would be expected that the number of positive cases will remain relatively low. However, in these past weeks, we have seen a rise in the number of positive cases which reached 5.2%,” explained epidemiologist Lugo Robles.

According to the doctor, who’s also a biologist, the rise of positivity rates suggests a rise in the incidence of COVID-19 cases and that Puerto Rico is experiencing active transmission within the community, thus provoking a rise in cases.

“This happens at the same time as the rise in hospitalizations and deaths are being reported, both indicators that alert us to the severity of the virus. Therefore, we face a negative and poorly encouraging panorama within the emergency. Let’s remember that Puerto Rico does not possess a robust and efficient healthcare system,” alerted Lugo Robles regarding the severity of the reality Puerto Rico faces under these indicators.

What factors can cause this rise in positivity?

Dr. Lugo Robles thinks this uptick in cases could be due to various factors:

  • Meetings or family outings during the weekend to celebrate Father’s Day.

  • The effect of the flexibilization and reopening of the economy. The Executive Order of June 11 voided the lockdown and allowed for the reopening of restaurants, bars, beauty salons, among others up to a capacity of 50%.

  • Outbreaks caused by trips in various towns.

  • Relaxing preventative measures like the use of masks, social distancing, and hand washing.

“Let’s remember that transmission and spread of COVID-19 is a multifactorial event that should be viewed through different angles to control and mitigate its effects,” said Roberta Lugo Robles.

DON’T stop taking preventative measures, especially if you have family members coming from the United States.

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