Puerto Rico to reopen businesses, beaches with new rules

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Sandra Algarin and Efrain Ortiz, employees at a health clinic, peek out the door while wearing masks as a precaution against COVID-19, in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, Thursday, May 21, 2020. Puerto Rico is cautiously reopening beaches, restaurants, churches, malls, and hair salons under strict conditions as the U.S. territory emerges from a two-month lockdown despite dozens of new coronavirus cases reported daily. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti) PUERTO RICO OUT-NO PUBLICAR EN PUERTO RICO

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico will cautiously reopen beaches, restaurants, churches, hair salons and retail stores next week under strict new rules as the U.S. territory emerges from a two-month lockdown that stifled business activity on an island already beset with economic woes.

Gov. Wanda Vázquez announced Thursday that most businesses will reopen on Tuesday, but a 7 p.m-to-5 a.m. curfew will remain in place until June 15. All people will be required to wear a mask when outside or inside a business, regardless of what they are doing.

“Puerto Rico is facing a new way of life,” she said. “It’s the right time ... We have flattened the curve.”

Many Puerto Ricans, including business owners, cheered the highly anticipated announcement.

Health experts, however, warned that the government has not tested enough people or conducted enough contact tracing and is not prepared for a possible spike in new infections. In addition, most of the re-openings contradict recommendations made by a government-appointed medical task force.

Puerto Rico’s Health Department has reported more than 2,900 confirmed COVID-19 cases and at least 126 deaths, and dozens of additional infections still emerge every day. Officials do not regularly update statistics, including how many people have been tested or how many have recovered. Until recently, the island had a lower per-capita testing rate than any U.S. state.

Mónica Feliú-Mójer, spokeswoman for CienciaPR, a nonprofit group of Puerto Rican scientists who seek widespread testing, said she was concerned that the government's data did not show that COVID-19 is under control.

Vázquez said the restricted reopenings will protect people but also provide desperately needed economic relief on an island hit by hurricanes and earthquakes. The resumption of some normal activities also comes as the government restructures some of its more than $70 billion public debt load after declaring the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history in 2015.