Puerto Rico has become the latest state or territory to declare a state of emergency and activate its National Guard in response to the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak.
Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced made the emergency declaration in a Thursday press conference to utilize the National Guard’s resources to combat the spread of the new coronavirus on the island.
National Guard personnel will be stationed at the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport in San Juan — as well as the cruise ship port area — to screen all arriving passengers for symptoms, as the activation is “not a standard emergency response mission,” a defense official said.
The governor also voiced frustrations with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over delayed results of tests for a handful of patients under observation.
The declaration also contains an order to postpone or cancel all mass gathering events until the end of the month.
Currently, Puerto Rico does not have any confirmed cases of COVID-19, but the governor said the steps being taken are preventative measures, aimed to stem the spread of the disease. According to the Puerto Rico Department of Health, there are five cases under investigation as of March 10.
“The CDC told us that it received the tests on Tuesday morning, and they began to process them, so today the 48 hours [for results] are met,” Rafael Rodriguez, Puerto Rico’s health secretary, said at the press conference, according to Caribbean Business. “[The CDC] promised that the results will be available tonight or tomorrow.”
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the CDC will provide state and local jurisdictions increased resources to combat the growing numbers of cases.
The total appropriations package contains $8.3 billion in relief with $560 million going to “states, localities, territories, and tribes,” a press release stated.
"Our state, local, tribal and territorial public health partners are on the front lines of the COVID-19 response,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, CDC director, in the release. “The action we are taking today will continue to support their efforts to increase public health capacity where it's needed most."
Puerto Rico will receive $5.8 million in federal aid, according to the CDC.
"State and local health departments are on the frontlines of responding to the COVID-19 outbreak, and we are deeply grateful for their work," said HHS Secretary Alex Azar in the release.
On Feb. 29, 2020, Gov. Vázquez Garced established a coronavirus task force to examine potential cases.
Puerto Rico is now the second state or territory to activate its National Guard components, following New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision earlier this week to activate Guardsmen. Cuomo’s decision centered around a “cluster” of COVID-19 cases in New Rochelle, New York.
Several other governors have signed emergency declarations, an important step in ensuring rapid activation and deployment of National Guard units, if needed.
National Guard units fall under the control of each state’s governor, while the National Guard Bureau is assisting the CDC-led, interagency effort to combat the outbreak at the federal level.
Earlier this year, the governor activated the Puerto Rico National Guard in response to a series of earthquakes off the coast of the island, which caused widespread damage, power outages and water insecurity.
Dylan Gresik is a reporting intern for Military Times through Northwestern University's Journalism Residency program.