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CAPTION: A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is prepared at the Ashford Medical Center in San Juan, Puerto Rico on December 15, 2020. Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images.
CAPTION: A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is prepared at the Ashford Medical Center in San Juan, Puerto Rico on December 15, 2020. Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images.

The nurse practitioner bringing COVID-19 shots door-to-door in Puerto Rico

Abigail Matos-Pagán is a nurse practitioner taking the fight against COVID-19 in Puerto Rico to resident’s doors.

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Puerto Rico’s fight against COVID-19 is forging ahead on the island. 

This week, Puerto Rico is seeing an estimated rate of 21,800 new cases per month, and the figure appears set to either rise or stay consistent in August.

This is a severe uptick in cases following a notable and steady decrease since April, with cases having started to rise again in July.

While a concerning figure, this number is down from the critical level of cases seen this past April, right before cases began to drop — an estimated 34,700 cases in the month. 

One major area of concern for many nations is vaccination rates. Currently, Puerto Rico has a vaccination rate of 60.6% fully vaccinated.

This data comes courtesy of Covid Act Now, an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded by volunteers in March 2020. Covid Act Now is the nonprofit’s COVID-focused initiative.

The goal in Puerto Rico now is to avoid the continued increase of daily cases, and remedy the effects of COVID-19’s continued spread. 

Nurse practitioner Abigail Matos-Pagán has a steadfast and caring approach to this challenge. 

Matos-Pagán is a Puerto Rican nurse practitioner who was born in New York City. When she was nine, her mother passed away, and she was inspired by the care her mother received from nurses. 

From then on, Matos-Pagán made it her objective to support people during times of tragedy, disaster, and loss.

She currently holds the prestigious role of first commander of the Puerto Rican Disaster Response Team, and is the director and founder of the Coalition of Nurses for Communities in Disaster. Matos-Pagán has become known in Puerto Rico for her nursing work, and for her undying humanity and commitment to a model of selflessness.

She was present for relief efforts during hurricane and earthquake aftermaths in Puerto Rico and beyond. 

During the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Matos-Pagán conducted early community assessments in the most remote and hard hit cities. 

After a powerful series of earthquakes rocked the island in 2020, Matos-Pagán organized nurse practitioners to provide community health care. The earthquakes left many residents without housing, or put them in substandard housing.

In the aftermath, Matos-Pagán supplied medicine to at-risk populations when pharmacies closed. Her team also set up mobile medical tents near hospitals when they became overcrowded. 

During COVID-19, Matos-Pagán has made it her goal to assist others in the island’s vaccination effort. She hopes to vaccinate as many people as possible in Puerto Rico, as first reported by Kaiser Health News (KHN).

A few residents in the city of ​​Mayagüez have offered Matos-Pagán the title of “The Vaccination Queen.” Some appear at Matos-Pagán’s home in pursuit of receiving a vaccine dose.

She has personally vaccinated approximately 1,800 people in Puerto Rico thus far. Among this number are about 1,000 people who are either living with a chronic illness or have become bed-ridden. 

The nurse practitioner has come to the aid of homebound residents who were not physically able to leave their homes and those living in the most remote areas of the island.

“It’s been really special to have intimate moments in someone’s home during vaccinations. You can tell how much it means to their entire family,” Matos-Pagán told KHN.

When pursuing a nursing career, Matos-Pagán left the United States and returned to Puerto Rico to study nursing. She earned her master’s degree and her doctorate at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez.

Since, she’s done major nursing and medical work in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, and the U.S. Atlantic coast. 

Stateside, Matos-Pagán found herself in a leadership role on an ICU floor in an El Paso hospital that was experiencing a shortage of resources, and also took on responsibilities at a struggling senior-living facility in Maryland. 

Now, as COVID-19 sees new surges in Puerto Rico, Matos-Pagán’s work is as important as ever.

Amid fears of recession and tourism’s role in the economy, officials in Puerto Rico are putting plans into motion to avoid worse scenarios.

Many are considering a potential need to require vaccinations to curb the spread and avoid the mutation of new COVID-19 variants. This conversation is taking place worldwide, but in Puerto Rico, industries such as education have already made the decision.

Recently, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi issued an executive order (EO 2021-058) requiring vaccination for all public employees in the Executive Branch. The executive order reinstates mask requirements indoors and outdoors when socially distancing at six-feet is not doable. 

Those affected by Pierluisi’s new executive order are employees and private contractors of the Executive Branch, health sector employees, and employees and guests at all hotels, hostels, guesthouses, or other short-term rentals. 

The executive order goes into effect Aug. 16, 2021, and suggests all commercial establishments and private entities must adopt similar requirements.

In addition to the vaccination efforts Matos-Pagán continues to carry out throughout Puerto Rico, the nurse practitioner will be keeping an eye out for the looming effects of the upcoming hurricane season, which officially began on the island in June.

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