The apparent mismanagement of essential supplies during Hurricane Maria has proven to be a boon to Puerto Rico in its fight against the coronavirus.
Health Secretary Lorenzo Gonzáles said officials discovered a stock of personal protective equipment at a hospital on the island of Vieques that has been closed since the Category 4 storm hit the territory in September 2017.
The reserve includes masks, gloves, gowns and masks all in good condition, which will be distributed to health institutions. “They are very useful at this time,” he said.
Puerto Rico has reported 18 deaths related to COVID-19 and more than 450 confirmed cases, including police officers who, along with health workers, are demanding more protective equipment.
“The government is not protecting the police as it should” even though the police are trying harder than ever, said Gregorio Matías, vice president of a police union.
The discovery on Vieques outraged many on the island who have yet to recover from Maria and from a series of earthquakes that shook the south of the territory in recent months.
González said he has ordered an investigation into why those supplies were abandoned in Vieques. Two months ago, a group broke into a warehouse full of emergency supplies just when the authorities needed them for those affected by the earthquakes. Several similar events have occurred since the passage of María.
González said the government needs respirators and other items, of which there are only 500 on an island of 3.2 million people with a high incidence of asthma.
“If that is going to be the difference between life and death, they are going to die,” said González. “Don’t take it lightly.”