As 14th Case Recorded in Puerto Rico Hospitals’ Spokesperson Says Testing is Essential
PRHA President Believes System Can Handle 500 to 600 Hospitalizations at a Time
SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico registered its 14th case of novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) Friday, and although hospitals are prepared to manage the outbreak, the system to test for infection needs to improve, Hospitals Association President (PRHA) Jaime Pla stressed Friday.
Puerto Rico’s Veterans Hospital reported six new Covid-19 cases to the island’s Health Department on Friday afternoon. The island now has 14 confirmed cases.
“Given the emergence of new positive cases on the Island of COVID-19, it is imperative to follow strict compliance with all the isolation measures that we have adopted to protect the life and health” of everyone,” Gov. Wanda Vázquez said in a statement.
Six men and one woman make up the most recent group of positive cases. Two of the men are 65 years old, followed by others who are 57, 33 and 37. While the woman is 55 years old.
The Veterans Hospital said all cases had symptoms and only two of them have no travel history. The rest developed symptoms after having traveled to destinations such as New York, Florida and Colorado.
All the patients are stable. Five of them are under home isolation orders and only one is in a hospital isolation unit.
The hospital said the number of cases under investigation in Puerto Rico reached 180, of which 114 returned negative results, 14 were positive and the results for 52 tests have yet to arrive.
Meanwhile, the president of the Primary Care Centers Association (PCCA), Gloria del C. Amador, said its members—known as 330 centers after the federal regulation that enables them—have been preparing for a while, especially by acquiring needed supplies and making efforts to test for the respiratory disease.
“Right now, the most significant problem that hospitals have is the situation of how to do [Covid-19] laboratory tests for patients who arrive or are sent to us because this process is still a bit tortuous,” Pla said.
“The hospitals have already done all the possible exercises, seen all the possible scenarios and we are ready to continue taking care of patients and obviously taking the necessary precautions when patients come who may be suspected of having the virus,” the PRHA said.
Pla said that if the number of hospitalizations stays “below 500 or 600 at a time,” the hospital system would be able to manage it. He emphasized that those numbers are “only an estimate not an official projection.” The key, Pla argued, is to have a “flattened curve”—a drawn-out period, versus a spike in hospitalizations—so the healthcare system’s capability is not overwhelmed. Pla’s estimate is based on the about 9,800 hospital beds on the island.
For her part, Amador said that although the number of patients has dropped dramatically, primary care centers are receiving people who are not regular patients, but their doctors’ offices are closed. The PCCA president explained that they have set up screening stations at the entrance of their facilities in case they see a suspicious case, the patient can be treated separately from other patients.
Regarding the problems with testing, Amador said the PCCA is discussing with private laboratories the possibility of providing Covid-19 testing, which could happen as early as next week.
The other service Amador pointed to was telemedicine, whereby doctors assess whether the patients need to seek medical help over a phone call, including providing a prescription refill. Amador explained that the Health Insurance Administration (ASES by its Spanish Acronym) allowed these types of consultations to be billable.
Amador said that ASES allowing centers to bill for the phone service “is an additional benefit of not having to worry about the economic damage that health institutions may experience in the case of providers,” The PCCA president added, “we have had to reduce the workforce, close facilities, the volume of patients we are going to see went down.”
But more than the economic hit, Amador’s grievance lies with how the government is not including the 330 centers in its planning, she said. The PCCA president argued that, just like with Hurricane Maria in 2017, the primary care centers help the general system by allowing patients to take care of primary-care needs or non-coronavirus-related medical problems, helping curb the overcrowding of emergency rooms.
“It is very important for us to send the message that the Health Department and the health coalitions should treat 330 centers as that first line of response, of support for the healthcare system in Puerto Rico.”
Amador also stressed that 330 centers need to be included in authorities’ assessments when determining the number of supplies needed, especially protective gear, such as the N-95 facial masks.
There are 97 primary care centers managed by 22 organizations in Puerto Rico.
—Cybernews contributed to this report.