Light at the End of the Tunnel: Puerto Rico Government Eliminates Most COVID-19 Restrictions
With COVID-19 positivity rates falling below 3.4%, on March 7, 2022, Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi issued Executive Order 2022-019 (EO), drastically changing previously issued COVID-19 measures and guidelines by eliminating most requirements regarding masks, capacity limits and vaccination mandates. This EO delegates any additional COVID-19 restrictions to the Puerto Rico Department of Health (PRDOH) via administrative orders. Consequently, on March 8, 2022, the PRDOH issued Administrative Order 2022-533 (AO) providing further guidelines on COVID-19 restrictions. Both the EO and AO take effect March 10, 2022. The following are the most important employer takeaways from both orders.
Vaccine and Booster Mandates
All vaccine and booster mandates are no longer in effect and are now recommendations only. Employers that must comply with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) vaccination rule, however, must continue to require proof of vaccination. Private and public employers may implement the precautionary measures they deem necessary, including requiring proof of vaccination for employees and visitors. Such measures are subject to any medical and religious exemptions.
Mask mandates are eliminated in exterior and interior areas. However, masks mandates are still in place for both visitors and employees of 1) healthcare facilities,1 2) assisted living facilities for the elderly, 3) centers that tend to individuals with intellectual disabilities, 4) correctional facilities, 5) public transit, 6) childcare centers, and 7) public and private schools when inside a closed facility. Private and public employers may implement the precautionary measures they deem necessary, including implementing mask mandates. Establishments may not prohibit mask use. The PRDOH continues to encourage individuals to use masks in areas where vaccination status cannot be confirmed. Private and public employers must provide reasonable accommodation for hearing-impaired individuals. These measures may include, but are not limited to, removing masks briefly to achieve effective non-verbal communication.
Quarantine and Isolation Measures
The PRDOH reinforced recently issued quarantine and isolations guidelines pursuant to CDC recommendations. The AO also emphasizes that the PRDOH reserves the right to amend these guidelines if contagion rates change.
Mass Activities and Maximum Forum Capacities
All mass activities are now allowed, provided activities with an attendance of more than 1,000 individuals at theatres, stadiums, coliseums or convention centers, whether indoors or outdoors, must comply with upcoming PRDOH administrative orders and protocols.2 Mask use is not required for mass activities, but changes to this provision will be determined according to the COVID-19 contagion rate. Non-vaccinated individuals will need to provide a negative COVID-19 test result 72 hours before the event or a positive test result from the previous three months with documentation of recovery.
All maximum-capacity requirements have now been left without effect, given that all private and public employers may, at their sole discretion, implement the precautionary health measures they deem necessary for their particular establishment. Restaurants and establishments that serve food and/or beverages will no longer need to require proof of vaccination or negative testing to their visitors. Every establishment reserves the right to implement the precautionary health measures it deems necessary, including vaccine or testing requirements. These measures are subject to any medical and religious exemptions.
Domestic and international travelers will no longer need to fill out “Declaration of Traveler, COVID-19 Alert” or the “Travel Declaration Form, COVID-19 Alert” traveler’s declaration or provide a negative COVID-19 test. Passengers arriving from any international destination must adhere to the rules imposed by the U.S. government (“Advancing the Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic”) and by CDC orders applicable to global travel.