• August 5th, 2021
  • Thursday, 12:20:37 PM

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COVID-19 and Latent Puerto Rican Trauma


Maribel Hastings

 

COVID-19 just “put the cherry on top” in Puerto Rico.

Since September 2017, it’s been nonstop. Two hurricanes, “Irma” and “María,” hit us just days apart. “María” caused death and destruction. To this day, there are people whose homes do not have roofs, entire industries that have not recovered, on top of emotional scars that have not healed.

Then came another type of disaster, a political one, at least for the administration of Governor Ricardo Rosselló, who ended up resigning from his position after a multitude of protests that paralyzed the Island, motivated by the people’s dissatisfaction with his mismanagement.

Then the earth began to tremble and, although diminished in intensity and number, continues to shake. In the southwest there are homes, schools, and other structures that are destroyed or damaged beyond repair and hundreds of lives have been disrupted.

What I can say is that for the Island, COVID-19 has shown us it never rains but it pours. This is yet another trauma for us to deal with, not having overcome the earlier ones. And hurricane season starts in June.

We still have not recovered from the triple punch of hurricanes, protests, and tremors and we restlessly ask ourselves: how could Puerto Rico confront a natural disaster that does not announce itself, like an earthquake, with our infrastructure in bad shape, homes that cannot hold up, a lack of plans coordinated by the state and, above all, hospitals in crisis for lack of personnel and equipment?

Island-dwellers were so traumatized by the earthquakes in January 2020 that they decided to say good-bye to the month like it was the end of the year, with fireworks and everything. Many asked, what more could we go through?

And then COVID-19 appeared on our shores.

Perhaps because we are already so predisposed to disaster, our initial reaction was to act like a hurricane was coming: we boarded up stores and supermarkets, gathering supplies from wherever possible and in great quantities, with “María” and her scarcities still alive in our memories.

And although many mistakes were made initially, among them permitting the docking of cruise ships and disembarking of travelers we later came to find out had been exposed to the terrible virus, it has to be recognized that the administration of Wanda Vázquez took early steps to try to reduce contagion, including curfews, social distancing, staying at home, and limiting car traffic to certain days of the week.

Many of these measures are even stricter than those taken in U.S. cities that are now hotspots of the pandemic.

As in other places, there are insufficient numbers of tests for the population and the hospitals lack the equipment necessary in case the virus spreads on a large scale. And the flight of health professionals is something that has been affecting the Island for the past few years. As in other places, we anxiously ask ourselves if our hospitals will collapse if the contagion multiplies. At the time of this writing, there were 513 diagnosed cases and 21 deaths.

As in other places, our medical personnel are carrying out laudable work with scarce resources. Puerto Rican kindness, ingenuity, and humor have also blossomed.

And as in other parts of the world, among our population we find a bit of everything: from the louts who do not respect anything and put their lives, as well as the lives of others, at risk; to those who complain about having to be closed up in their homes and proclaim their boredom; to those of us who wish we had the luxury of boredom but are dedicated to caring for sick parents, with our souls suspended, fearing that our loved ones will succumb not to the sickness that ails them, but the much-feared virus.

But as we always operate in disaster mode, I think that at least where I live people have taken the threat seriously and are acting accordingly, taking the necessary precautions.

And as other parts of the world, we do not know what awaits us in the near future, when COVID-19 will leave us, how many it will take with it, nor when our lives will recover some semblance of “normalcy.”

What I can say is that for the Island, COVID-19 has shown us it never rains but it pours. This is yet another trauma for us to deal with, not having overcome the earlier ones.

And hurricane season starts in June.

 

Maribel Hastings is a Senior Advisor to América’s Voice.

 

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