Puerto Rico has been known for having the longest Christmas in the world along with great parties, music and food. This year, as well as the rest of the world, has been a challenging one due to COVID-19, which is why officials urge not to travel to the island for vacation.
However, “we know that people are going to travel, so we want them to do it responsibly,” said Xiomara Rodríguez, director of communications for Discover Puerto Rico.
Rodríguez stressed that the first thing every traveler should do, especially if they don’t know the island, is to inform themselves on the executive order imposed by Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced.
“Puerto Rico, like many other places, has imposed measures to prevent or contain the spread of the coronavirus. We are always delighted to promote the island and invite people to come visit us. This is not one of those times. We are not promoting for people to come for tourism and we urge that, if they do, that they take all the necessary measures,” Rodríguez said.
According to the Customs and Border Protection, the following categories do not fall within the definition of “essential travel”: People who travel for tourism purposes, such as sightseeing, recreation or attending cultural events.
Despite the increase in coronavirus cases on the island that led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to classify Puerto Rico as Level 4, Rodríguez explained that the airports remain open and the flow of passengers is not something that can be closed or prohibited.
“Our airport is a federal jurisdiction and it is the FAA or the aviation federation that controls everything that is the entrance to Puerto Rico. So the airport is open and people continue to travel,“ she said.
At this time “we are not inviting anyone to come to travel or vacation, but people are going to come because we know that there is a large audience from the diaspora who are going to come to celebrate with their families and we want them to do so prepared,” Rodríguez said.
Considering that travel can increase the chances of contracting and spreading COVID-19, for those who still insist on traveling, Rodríguez implores that they should be educated about safe and sustainable local tourism. Puerto Rico has begun the vaccination process against COVID-19, a movement that they hope will help to return to a new post-coronavirus reality. A respiratory therapist who treated the first two COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Puerto Rico was the first person in the United States to receive the virus vaccine on Tuesday.
Yahaira Alicea cared for an Italian couple who visited the island on a cruise ship in March. The woman died later. Alicea said it was a scary moment for her, weighing on her physically and emotionally, and urged everyone to get vaccinated.
Precisely to keep everyone healthy, the Discover Puerto Rico spokeswoman emphasized the security measures and protocols at the airport in order to enter the island.
“If the trip is essential and cannot be postponed, travelers must complete the Travel Declaration Form through the online portal of the Puerto Rico Department of Health, obtain a molecular test of COVID-19 (nasal swab or throat) no more than 72 hours before visiting the Island, and show proof of a negative result or they should be quarantined,“ according to a Discover Puerto Rico statement.
Rodríguez stressed that as of Dec. 7, there is a 9 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew on the island along with a 24-hour closure on Sundays, except in emergencies until Jan. 7.
In addition, those who travel to enjoy the Caribbean beaches, “have to know that public beaches and nature reserves will be open only for individual sports, following social distancing guidelines and with the use of masks when they are not in the water,” said Rodríguez .
Likewise, restaurants, casinos and museums operate at 30% of their capacity and the swimming pools of hotels and other establishments are open at 30% of their capacity. The bars remain closed.
That is why both for the government and for Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s destination marketing organization, it is imperative to promote a message of safety and “as much as we want all our Puerto Ricans in the diaspora on the island again and receive the thousands of tourists who keep our local tourism alive, this is not the time,“ said Rodríguez.
The agency stresses that “now more than ever, tourist destinations have the responsibility to continue communicating the importance of traveling safely, especially when the Christmas season is approaching.”
WHAT TO DO IF YOU TRAVEL TO PUERTO RICO
Arrival to the island
Everyone must complete an online Travel Declaration Form from the Puerto Rico Department of Health, which can be accessed at www.travelsafe.pr.gov or www.viajaseguro.pr.gov. Kiosks at the airport are also available for travelers to fill out the form upon arrival as it is a requirement to leave the airport.
You must show a negative molecular COVID-19 test result (consisting of a nasal or throat swab), taken no more than 72 hours before. Test sites in the continental U.S. can be found at hhs.gov. Testing before arriving on the island is highly recommended due to limited resources.
Get the airport departure confirmation number and QR code, which travelers will automatically receive when they upload their molecular test results to the Puerto Rico Department of Health’s online portal.
When you arrive at the airport:
The Puerto Rico National Guard is assisting with health screenings for all passengers arriving at the Luis Munoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, where all passenger flights are currently being diverted. Masks are mandatory.
All arriving travelers will be pre-screened through thermal imaging cameras to monitor temperatures, and improved protocols will be implemented in baggage claim prior to leaving the airport.
Travelers are asked to do their part and if they are asymptomatic or receive a positive test post-arrival they are asked to quarantine and isolate themselves while they get better, tested and receive a negative test.
“What we want is not only to protect them, but also to protect the Puerto Ricans who live on the island,” Rodríguez said.