Puerto Rico, which has taken some of the United States’ most dramatic measures to control the spread of the coronavirus, reported eight new positive cases on Friday, including several with continental U.S. and Florida ties.
On Friday afternoon, Puerto Rico’s Veterans Affairs Hospital reported six new cases, which are in addition to two new cases the island’s Health Department reported Friday morning.
The new additions bring the island’s total number of COVID-19 cases to 14 — up from just five a few days ago.
The Health Department said the VA cases include one woman and five men, who range in age from 33 to 65. All of them are in stable condition and in isolation at home except for one who remains hospitalized, officials said. In addition, four of them had traveled to Florida, New York or Colorado before symptoms appeared.
Earlier in the day, the government said two men, ages 68 and 60, had tested positive for the novel coronavirus after having traveled through Florida.
Puerto Rico’s chief epidemiologist, Carmen Deseda, said those cases had been “imported” to Puerto Rico.
“That’s why every citizen must maintain the social isolation measures,” she said in a statement. “This is a very serious matter and the way to avoid contagion is staying home.”
Both men were in isolation in hospitals in the San Juan Metropolitan area and in Mayaguez, on the western side of the island.
Health officials didn’t say where in Florida the men had been or the time-frame of their travel. but there are estimated to be some 1.2 million Puerto Ricans in Florida. And Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, receives 4-5 million visitors a year.
Florida has emerged as a mainland hotspot for the coronavirus. On Thursday, the state reported 432 cases, double the number of cases just two days ago. Nearly half of those cases are in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
With an aging population and weak healthcare system, Puerto Rico is seen as particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus, and Gov. Wanda Vázquez has taken aggressive steps to contain it.
Last week, she barred cruise ships from docking. She also ordered a two-week lockdown and curfew that started March 16, shutting all non-essential businesses.
In addition, she is petitioning the Federal Aviation Administration to block incoming flights. The FAA says it’s evaluating the request but said that, as a rule, it does not allow airports that receive federal funding to shut down.
It’s still unclear if its working. But since Vázquez took those measures, other U.S. jurisdictions have followed suit with curfews and business shutdowns. Countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean are also closing their borders, as the world takes unprecedented measures to curtail the virus’ spread.
Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory of 3.2 million, has run 180 tests, of which 114 have been negative, 14 have been positive and 52 are still pending.