Locals on lockdown, visitors on vacation: The reality of COVID-19 in Puerto Rico
There have also been violent confrontations between locals and tourists that refuse to wear masks.
Despite the pandemic that started impacting travel in February, tourists never stopped traveling to Puerto Rico.
The island’s government failed to restrict travel to and from and it has deeply cost local health care systems and the safety and wellness of local residents
Because travel never stopped, “anti-masker” tourists from the mainland have been able to freely visit the island, ignoring rules and regulations concerning social distancing and face coverings, putting locals at risk.
Now as the island is dealing with a major increase in COVID-19 cases, many protesters are demanding that nonessential travel be shut down immediately.
“We’re going to continue this caravan and this struggle, because this is a life-or-death situation, and this governor has not been addressing this issue. The people are going to take matters into their own hands,” Ricardo Santos, protest organizer and member of the Socialist Workers Movement, told Democracy Now.
Whether these anti-mask tourists follow conspiracy theories about the virus, or just feel that it’s “too hot” to wear a mask, they’ve been arriving in very large crowds and many locals see it as an extension of colonialism.
The island’s health care system is still suffering from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and the tourists are behaving in a way that gives no thought towards the health and well-being of the local residents.
Tourists are disregarding face covering requirements and it’s often leading to violent confrontations.
A few weeks ago, a group of women visited a mall in San Juan and retaliated against a Zara employee asking that they wear masks by damaging at least $2,000 in store merchandise.
Many local workers who serve the tourist economy are frustrated with the behavior of the visitors.
“They have attitudes when they get here. One said she was going to ‘die of retardation’ for taking her temperature. Another complained about the hand sanitizer: they said ‘ew, what is that?’” one worker told the Daily Beast.
Police have threatened Puerto Ricans with extremely high fines and even arrest for being out past the 10 p.m. curfew, yet locals continue to see tourists walking around without masks. Locals feel like they’re on lockdown while visitors are on a worry-free vacation.
Because the island is a United States territory, Puerto Rico cannot formally shut down or limit flights at the Luis Muñoz Marín Airport on its own; only the Federal Aviation Administration can make that call.
San Juan based epidemiologist, Andrea Sánchez, warned against more tourists coming to the island.
“What we’re doing now is saying that we’re not ready for you to come here. Puerto Rico is seeing a rise in cases, it’s not a safe place to vacation,” she said.