20 July 20207 minute read

Amid spike in positive cases, Puerto Rico tightens restrictions for businesses and tourism

Due to the significant increase in contagions and hospitalizations in connection with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic during the last two weeks, the Governor of Puerto Rico has issued Executive Order OE-2020-54 on July 16, 2020, mostly reverting to prior restrictions in order to control the spread of COVID-19. The restrictions impact certain businesses, particularly in the food and beverage, entertainment and tourism industries.

The Order, which will be in effect from July 17 to July 31, 2020, maintains the curfew from 10 pm to 5 am. Businesses are permitted to open, subject to the curfew restrictions. Although the Order allows daily operations, on July 20, 2020, the government announced that on Sunday, July 26, only grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, and restaurants will be authorized to open, and then only for pickup and delivery. The sale of alcoholic beverages will be prohibited at all businesses on Sunday. An additional order will be issued to establish these restrictions, and the government is considering extending this measure to every Sunday until further notice. 

Each business must ensure that employees and customers wear a face covering and follow the now-standard social distancing and hygiene measures. The Order prohibits individuals from congregating, standing or waiting in line outside commercial establishments as they wait to be served or to pick up merchandise; consumers must stay inside their vehicles until it is their turn to receive services. Businesses must also design and submit an exposure control plan to protect employees. Please refer to our previous alert with regard to this requirement. 

The Order prohibits the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages in any establishment after 7 pm. Bars must remain closed. Food establishments may sell alcoholic beverages until 7 pm but cannot allow gatherings for social drinking inside the establishments or in parking lots. Restaurants, fast food restaurants and food trucks may continue to provide services on site with the adequate social distancing measures, but their indoor serving capacity has been reduced to 50 percent (previously 75 percent). A reservation system is recommended. Supermarkets, mini markets and farmers’ markets may continue their operations, with the appropriate social distancing measures.

Construction and manufacturing businesses may continue regular operations, subject to safety and hygiene protocols. The indoor capacity for wholesale and retail stores, service establishments and strip malls or open-air shopping centers has been reduced to 50 percent (previously 75 percent). Enclosed shopping malls will be limited to one person for each 75 square feet. Movie theaters have been ordered to shut down, although drive-in theaters may continue operating by selling tickets electronically.

Tourism and recreation

Since July 15, 2020, and pursuant to Executive Order OE-2020-52, passengers arriving at the Puerto Rico airports on a domestic or international flight shall remain quarantined for a period of 14 days or for the duration of their stay in Puerto Rico, whichever is shorter, unless a negative COVID-19 result from a qualified molecular SARS-COV2 test performed within the last 72 hours is presented upon their arrival. All incoming passengers shall be required to fill out a Traveler Health Statement, which may be accessed online prior to arrival or may be obtained at the airport upon arrival. Those passengers who are required to remain quarantined must stay at the location reported in the traveler statement and avoid contact or visits from any persons, related or unrelated. A health professional or individual authorized by the government authorities may visit quarantined passengers for monitoring or follow-up purposes. Flight crew members and aircraft mechanics who will not stay in Puerto Rico for more than 72 hours – federal agents, active duty military personnel or other personnel as may be determined by the Department of Health – shall be exempt from complying with the quarantine order, but will have to complete the travel health statement and limit their interaction with other persons during their stay. 

The date for promoting international tourism has been postponed until August 15, 2020 (previously July 15, 2020), and visitors are encouraged to delay their visit to the island. Hotels and other lodgings must close their bars and pools. Casinos have also been shut down.

Beaches will only be available to practice sports, including walking, running, rowing, surfing, paddle boarding, diving and sailing. Social gatherings and sunbathing at the beach are prohibited. The use of private boats and jet skis for recreational purposes is also prohibited. Piers and marinas have been shut down. Water transportation to the islands of Vieques and Culebra will only be available to residents of those islands. Cruise ports continue to remain closed.

Sports and recreational activities will be permitted on an individual basis and without physical contact. Gyms have been ordered to shut down. Professional and recreational sport competitions have been canceled. Horse races may be carried out with public spectators, and horse race betting agencies may continue operating, both subject to a reduced capacity of 50 percent; game rooms and videogame arcades inside horse betting agencies must remain closed.

Artistic events may only be carried out virtually without a live public. Art and entertainment venues have been shut down, except for museums, which may operate limited to 50 percent of their capacity. These include concert halls, dance halls, theaters and arcades or game rooms. All events with large congregations of people have been canceled. 

Other restrictions and sanctions

Governmental agencies will continue operating and providing services to citizens in accordance with the social distancing protocols established by each agency. Public transportation services – including buses and the subway – have been suspended, except for the service to drive the elderly individually to medical appointments. Taxis, transportation applications and other private transportation services may operate, subject to contagion control measures. However, party buses and similar services have been prohibited.

Childcare centers as well as universities may operate under strict hygiene and social distancing measures. Public and private schools may reactivate personnel to prepare their facilities for the next semester, but students are not yet allowed to attend. The Department of Education is currently developing a protocol for the reopening of public schools.

Visits to family and friends in elderly centers and prisons have been cancelled. Similarly, social and family gatherings within homes or public places must be limited and follow social distancing and hygiene measures. Religious groups are allowed to congregate, limited to 50 percent of the capacity of the churches or religious centers.

Persons with COVID-19 symptoms and those who have been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 must be quarantined for 14 days. Patients who have tested positive to COVID-19 and do not comply with the quarantine order will be subject to criminal sanctions.

Any violation to the Order may be sanctioned with a $5,000 fine or up to six months of prison. An interagency force was established to ensure compliance with the Order, and businesses that do not comply with the restrictions and protocols may be shut down. 

If you have any questions regarding these new requirements and their implications, please contact the authors or your DLA Piper relationship attorney.

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This information does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.  All information, content, and materials are for general informational purposes only.  No reader should act, or refrain from acting, with respect to any particular legal matter on the basis of this information without first seeking legal advice from counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.