Puerto Rico in the Pandemic

As of this writing, Puerto Rico has 1,539 confirmed coronavirus cases and 92 deaths. Compared with states having similar population figures, it could be worse. Nevada has 4,998 confirmed cases and 237 deaths, while Iowa has 7,145 cases and 162 deaths.

Puerto Rico has some real disadvantages when it comes to treating COVID-19 cases. The population has more vulnerable people than the average for the U.S. The healthcare system has been underfunded and has not fully recovered from the effects of hurricanes and earthquakes. Federal resources for Puerto Rico are about one billion dollars less than they would be if Puerto Rico were a state.

For Puerto Rico, limiting the spread of the virus is the only practical approach.

Lock down

Governor Wanda Velazquez Garced established curfews and closed down schools and businesses in mid-March. Restrictions will continue through May. Tourists are being discouraged from visiting the Island. These actions are the most likely explanation for Puerto Rico’s relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases, but they are not universally approved.

The ACLU is suing the government of Puerto Rico, and some residents of the Island are protesting. There have been protests in more than a dozen states as well.

Concern for the economy is at the root of the protests, though the pandemic has also brought out political differences in the United States in general and in Puerto Rico. Tourism contributes less to Puerto Rico’s economy than to the economies of most Caribbean nations.

Economic potential

Manufacturing is actually the largest sector of Puerto Rico’s economy, accounting for nearly half the GDP. By comparison, tourism produces about 8%. It is possible that manufacturing could actually get a boost from the coronavirus. Experts are concerned that the United States relies too heavily on China for medical supplies, and Puerto Rico is the top pharmaceuticals manufacturing region in the United States.

The U.S. is facing saline shortages, which were a serious problem after Hurricane Maria. Regulators are working to keep electricity available for saline suppliers on the Island. Realistically, unstable electricity cannot be a problem for a jurisdiction that wants to step up manufacturing. It should have been a priority all along.

Puerto Rico’s involvement in essential businesses could be a saving grace during the pandemic. The Island is also in a strong position to step up remote work in the information technology space — again, assuming reliable electricity and telecommunications are established.

It’s impossible to predict what will happen, but there is room for a positive outlook.

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