UPDATED April 7th, 2020, April 13th, 2020, April 14th, 2020
On March 12, 2020 the Governor of Puerto Rico declared a state of emergency due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.
On March 15, 2020 the Governor issued Executive Order No. 2020-023 with 24/7 lock down restrictions for the operations of non-essential businesses and government entities, including a citizens’ curfew which took effect until March 30, 2020, among other restrictions.
Examples of specific places required to close are: movie houses, discotheques, concert halls, casinos, gyms, bars, amusement parks, places of reunion, marinas, etc.
Regarding individuals, it established the criteria for quarantines and isolation as follows:
Ordered all persons as to whom there is a reasonable suspicion of having been exposed to COVID-19, regardless of whether they are presenting signs or symptoms of contagion, to remain quarantined at home for a period of 14 days.
Ordered a 14-day social isolation, including reclusion or other restrictions to movement, for any person who has been infected with COVID-19 or as to whom there is a reasonable suspicion of having been so infected.
On March 30, 2020 the governor issued Executive Order No. 2020-30 with indefinite duration during the emergency to order a mandatory 14-day quarantine of all passengers arriving at the SJU airport. Arriving individuals must fill out a form with certain details. Residents shall stay at home and visitors shall stay in their rooms at their lodging and not common areas. There are some exemptions for relief work and others.
On March 30, 2020 the governor issued Executive Order No. 2020-029 to extend until midnight April 12, 2020 a 24/7 lockdown and curfew, with some exceptions.
Individuals who are not otherwise specifically exempted from the lockdown / curfew may exit their homes from 5:00m to 7:00pm for very specific reasons related to: (1) the purchase of food, medicines, or basic necessities or for other medical care; (2) care givers or providing transportation of elderly, minors, infirm, disabled, dependents or other vulnerable people who require medical or professional attention; (3) visiting a financial institution for a reason of emergency; and (4) to provide or receive an exempted service under Executive Order No. 2020-029.
Moreover, use of motor vehicles are restricted for (1) purchases, (2) visiting financial institutions, and (3) receiving exempted services in accordance with the ending digit of the license plate as follows: even –Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Odd – Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, while those ending on a letter are considered even. Allowed exceptions to vehicle movements are recognized emergencies, workers of exempted businesses, or allowed service providers.
Boating and other sea vessels: Recreational boating is discouraged. Exceptions are commercial fishermen, residents of vessels, and those allowed under federal regulations. Law enforcement may patrol the waters of Puerto Rico to discourage recreational transit and mayors are authorized to reject the landing of passengers from any sea vessels.
Owners and/or persons in charge of a residence may not allow persons outside of their immediate family to gather for any meetings, activities, parties, subject to legal penalties.
Business establishment closing exemptions, those engaged in:
1. Food: (1) Prepared food sales, only through drive-through, carry out or delivery. No entry of the patrons into the establishment is permitted; Includes (2) retail or wholesale food sales, businesses related to food distribution, agriculture, beverages, animal feed, including food processors and preparers, and distribution of food and beverages.
2. Medicines, medical equipment and products;
4. Gas stations and their distribution channels;
5. Financial institutions; while pawn shops are restricted to only to lend or to receive payments, they are expressly prohibited from selling goods or services;
6. Homes for the elderly;
7. Organizations or groups that provide services to disadvantaged people, homeless shelters, and food banks,
Business services closing exemptions, those engaged in:
1. Plumbers, electricians, repair, maintenance or replacement of domestic appliances, pest control and extermination of insects, cleaning of pools in residences, commerce industry and to the public.
2. roadside assistance in case of emergency;
3. delivery and forwarding of packages and mail;
4. funeral and mortuary services including, cremations and burials (but no wake);
5. repair and parts of vehicles including technicians, tire repairs and sales, parts distributors, may operate to the public only in case of emergency on Wednesdays and Thursdays between 9 AM and noon by appointment by e-mail or phone, and taking one client at a time at the establishment;
6. hardware stores may sell on Fridays and Saturday between 9 AM and noon by appointment by e-mail or phone, may not open to the public except they may take one client at a time at the establishment;
7. installation, repair, replacement, maintenance and refurbishment of critical telecommunications infrastructure, including their facilities;
8. emergency dental procedures by appointment;
9. specific medical procedures such as emergency services or specialized medical treatments such as, dialysis, cancer treatment; and
10. construction work, for critical service, maintenance or repairs of hospitals, utilities, and communications.
1. Private and public security employees;
2. healthcare professionals, including mental health, hospital, pharmacy, pharmaceutical plants, biosciences, and health center workers;
3. food distribution supply chain, including agricultural supplies, including those working fresh product food stands established prior to March 15, 2020, may take one client at a time;
4. workers at utilities and critical infrastructure;
5. workers at call centers;
6. workers at sea ports and airports;
7. press and other media;
8. those tending to emergencies and health related issues; and
9. government employees coming and going to work.
10. camera and sound technicians, clergy working at churches, synagogues, mosques, and other temples who transmit their remote services over radio, TV or other media.
Violations to the Executive Order are considered misdemeanors which may carry reclusion of no more than six (6) months or a fine of up to $5,000.00
Agency heads may supplement and clarify the extent of these limitations.
On April 3, 2020 the Secretary of the Department of Economic Development and Commerce issued a Circular Letter No. 2020-05 to the industrial commercial and entrepreneurial sectors including further examples of businesses which are exempt from the lockout provisions such as:
1. Food, retail or wholesale food sales, businesses related to food distribution, agriculture, beverages, animal feed, including food processors and preparers, and distribution of food and beverages, and hydroponic and general farming activities; and
2. supermarket and other food markets, including other business which include these. Except supermarkets and food markets must remain closed on Sundays.
3. safe houses for victims or shelters.
4. medicines, medical equipment or other articles, and pharmacies, includes the production, sales a rendering of services related to medicines, medical care, or other articles related to medical services, and those within the chain of distribution thereof:
(1) manufacturing and sales of medical devices;
(2) biotechnology, including agricultural biotechnology;
(3) manufacturing of supplies for hospitals;
(4) clinical laboratories;
(5) medical cannabis dispensaries, growing and processing facilities;
(6) on Sundays pharmacies must only open the area where prescriptions are dispensed and other articles for personal hygiene; and
(7) medical and dental offices (for cases of emergency), provided elective medical procedures must be suspended.
5. Gas stations and their distribution channels
Production, refining, distribution wholesale and retail sales of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, aircraft fuel, propane, butane, natural gas, kerosene, intermediate fuels, blends, among others. Provided that on Sundays, gas stations may only dispense fuel.
6. Financial institutions
(1) Banks and Credit unions which provide banking services;
(2) loan companies or entities; and
(3) pawn shops but only to execute an agreement to lend or to receive payments for debts; they are expressly prohibited from selling goods or services.
7. National Security
(2) goods and services related to any federal agency including the Department of Defense; and
(3) textile industries in accordance with Circular Letter No. 2020-04 of the Department of Economic Development and Commerce of April 1, 2020.
8. Critical infrastructure
(1) Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, water authority, telecommunications, roads, garbage and biomedical disposal;
(2) maritime ports and airports; and
(3) mobile phones, tablets, cable tv boxes and similar equipment, needed for consumers to use such critical infrastructure provided service of such equipment is made remotely and delivered by mail or approved carriers.
9. Goods and services
(1) Care of the elderly;
(2) call centers;
(3) public private or state and federal security companies;
(4) locksmith in case of emergency;
(5) closed circuit and alarm services;
(6) recycling services;
(7) maintenance and cleaning services;
(8) landscaping and gardens maintenance;
(9) repair of elevators;
(10) maintenance and repair of access controls;
(11) other services necessary for the maintenance of health, safety and essential operations of an individual, residences, commerce, industry or public;
(12) garbage collection and disposal public and private; and
(13) manufacturing of goods for export.
For critical services, maintenance or repairs, related to hospitals, running water, electricity and communications. The supply of materials for this sector is also allowed;
11. Supply chain related to goods and services exempt under the above, such as:
(1) Logistics and transport services such as customs brokers and agents, freight consolidators, warehouses and distribution centers and for the distribution of detergents, healing products, and products involving hygiene and cleaning;
(2) technology manufacturing, of appliances and electronic articles, including ink for printers; fire prevention, including their sales, design and installation;
(3) signage companies in exempt companies;
(4) armories for the security sector;
(5) employment agencies operating through call-centers; and
(6) solar energy producing equipment sales, service, installation and maintenance.
On April 5th 2020, the Governor announced publicly that she would order retail business establishments to be closed from Friday, April 10th, to and including, Sunday, April 12, 2020, except for gas stations and pharmacies which dispense prescribed medications.
Yet, on April 7, 2020, the Governor issued Executive Order No. 2020-030 to limit the businesses excepted by the closing order in Executive Order No. 2020-29 to the effect that “as of Friday 10, Saturday 11, and Sunday, April 12, 2020, ALL COMMERCIAL ESTABLISHMENTS will be closed” except the following, which remain as exemptions for the closure of establishments:
1. Food: (1) Sale of prepared food, only through car, pick up or delivery. Wherein customers are not allowed to enter the establishment; (2) businesses related to food distribution, limited to transportation, delivery or collection of such merchandise; (3) grocery stores, kiosks or supermarkets only for cleaning, disinfection, and merchandise handling.
2. pharmacies, in the recipe area to sell medicines and personal hygiene items;
3. service stations, gas stations, to “dispense fuel or medicine”;
4. homes for the elderly; and
5. organizations or groups that provide services to disadvantaged people, homeless shelters, food banks, among others.
In other words, from those three days the following commercial establishments were excluded from the exemptions: (1) medical equipment and products; (2) in the food distribution chain the food preparation. During those three days, grocery stores, supermarkets and food kiosks will be closed to the public. Furthermore, note that, until now, the closing and curfew orders are to be in effect until April 12, 2020, but the matter is under evaluation. Lastly, no amendments were made to the exemptions to commercial services discussed above.
On April 5th 2020, the Governor signed Senate Bill 1545, now Law No. 35 of 2020, elevating to penal law the penalties established for violating the Executive Orders enacted due to the COVID-19 emergency and for publishing or allowing to publish false information with respect to the executive orders enacted, with the intent of creating, confusion, panic or public hysteria. If damages caused by such publication are in the amount of $10,000, the crime would be a felony class 4 under the Penal Code of Puerto Rico.
On April 12, 2020, the Governor issued Executive Order No. 2020-033 to, among other things, extend the period of mandatory lock down and civilian curfew as extended by Executive Order No. 2020-029, and further amended by Executive Order No. 2020-032 beginning on April 13, 2020 and ending on May 3, 2020. The curfew was relaxed to allow civilians to conduct certain errands between 5:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. It requires government employees to provide services remotely but orders government offices to remain closed to the general public. However, essential government employees will continue working to provide services.
Exempt businesses from the lockdown remained essentially the same, except for:
(1) supermarkets and grocery stores, including businesses with a grocery section which may remain open to the public Monday through Saturday from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. However, their delivery services may continue operating until 10:00 p.m. Supermarkets and grocery stores shall be closed to the public on Sundays but may remain open in order to clean, disinfect or restock goods and merchandise;
(2) veterinary clinics (by appointment) which were added to the exempted businesses;
(3) Hardware stores may now provide emergency services on Fridays and Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. upon prior phone or email appointment. These businesses must adopt measures to prevent infections and take steps to ensure that only one customer is being attended at a time without being open to the general public. As an exception, from Monday to Thursday, hardware stores may handle emergency phone or email orders made by government entities or exempted businesses or services; and
(4) Textile businesses that manufacture personal protective equipment (e.g., face masks, head covers, health gowns, gloves and other protective equipment used as healthcare protection) were added as exempt businesses that may remain open as long as they comply with the protocols and regulations set forth by the Puerto Rico Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“PROSHA”) to protect employees from infection of COVID-19 on March 31, 2020.
Executive Order No. 2020-033 requires new safety measures to be followed by the public when visiting any of the exempted businesses:
(1) Use face masks or similar articles of clothing (e.g., scarfs) that cover the area around the mouth and nose;
(2) Maintain at least 6 feet apart from any other person; and
(3) Only one member of a household will be allowed to enter an establishment at a time (except when assisting others with a health or physical disability).
In order to protect the health and safety of their employees and customers, private businesses must require their customers to comply with these safety measures in and out of the premises and refuse entry to any person who does not wear a face mask or other similar mouth and nose cover. They must also provide stations or allow persons to otherwise disinfect their hands while remaining in the premises.
Executive Order No. 2020-033 recommends supermarkets and pharmacies to adopt special hours for senior customers who are older than 65 years of age. Also, if possible, should offer preferential service to those persons who work in hospitals, clinical labs or public safety.
Executive Order No. 2020-033 added to the list of exempt individuals:
(1) Legal representatives of citizens accused of crimes with a court hearing; bail reduction and habeas corpus proceedings; and
(2) Individuals with autism to take therapeutic excursions near their homes while accompanied by one person.
Beginning on April 13, 2020, the restrictions imposed on the use of motor vehicles based on the license plate number were rescinded.
Lastly, employers may have up to five (5) employees at their offices in order to process payroll on April 14, 2020, from 5:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
On April 14, 2020, the Governor issued Executive Order No. 2020-034 to amend the mandatory curfew from April 15th, 2020 to May 3rd, 2020, to start daily, earlier, at 7:00 pm and end at 5:00 am. However, businesses authorized to open pursuant to Executive Order No. 2020-033 may remain open until 8:00 p.m., but may only serve individuals who work in hospitals, clinical labs and are engaged in public order.
We express no opinion as to the constitutional validity of these Executive Orders, Circular Letters and the Law cited. Preventing the spread of a pandemic is obviously a compelling government interest. Based on precedent it may be a valid exercise to enact laws to prevent the spread of a contagious disease if narrowly tailored to the necessities of the moment. We are observing these provisions in due respect to the governments ’constitutional limitations and expecting some flexibility in enforcement, and out of our civic duty to prevent the spread and safeguard our families, friends and other members of the community.
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