Puerto Rico sees largest single-day increase in coronavirus cases as death toll hits 6

Tribune Content Agency

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico saw its largest single-day increase in new COVID-19 cases, a sign that testing is ramping up but also that the virus is spreading amid some of the most restrictive measures of any U.S. jurisdiction.

On Monday, the island’s Health Department said public and private labs had detected 47 new cases and that another patient had died. The island now has 174 cases of the novel coronavirus and has registered six deaths due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

The latest fatality was a 68-year-old man who had close contact with a family member who had traveled to New York — the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic, the Health Department said. The man died at a hospital in Bayamón, about 10 miles southwest of the capital.

Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory of 3.2 million people, registered its first three cases of the novel coronavirus on March 13 and shut all nonessential businesses, canceled school and ordered residents to stay indoors three days later. Those measures — along with others — will continue through at least April 12.

Despite the tough actions early in the outbreak, the number of new cases continues to grow.

On March 28, the island hit its first 100 cases. The following day, it recorded 27 new cases — a record high — and two new deaths, including the island’s youngest victim, a 42-year-old woman who had underlying health issues.

“The numbers keep increasing, both in terms of new cases and deaths related to COVID-19,” Health Secretary Lorenzo González said in a statement. “This should be a warning to all of us that we are in a serious situation that we have to take seriously. We must obey the social distancing rules ordered by the government and avoid leaving our homes. It’s the only way to stop the propagation of this virus.”

Despite the uptick, officials say the spread would be far worse if Puerto Rico had not taken measures to enforce isolation and social distancing.

For the vast majority of people, the coronavirus produces flulike symptoms. But in a significant minority — particularly the elderly and those with other health issues — it can cause respiratory problems that require hospitalization and, in extreme cases, the use of a ventilator.

Like many jurisdictions, Puerto Rico has been having trouble ramping up its testing. Early on in the outbreak, the government said it had ordered 200,000 rapid test kits, but those tests have come trickling in, and the administration has provided few details.

Even so, the Veterans Affairs Hospital and private labs have been increasing their capacity.

As of March 29, the island had performed 1,899 tests, of which 931 have been negative, 174 have been positive, and 794 are still pending.

Early on, almost all the cases were tied to travel abroad. Now the Health Department says 52% of all positive cases have a travel history, while 48% do not.

Puerto Rico may be particularly susceptible to the coronavirus. The island’s hospitals have been stressed by years of natural disasters and economic malaise, and the population is aging.

According to U.S. Census figures, 20.7% of the island’s population is over 65 years old. If it were a state, it would be the oldest in the union, ahead of Maine (20.6%), Florida (20.5%) and West Virginia (19.9%).

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