ast Thursday, Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi announced that from June 7 onwards, and at least until July 4, the country will be governed by an opening to commercial and social activities that include giving the green light to the operation of casinos to a 75% of their capacity, while theaters and cinemas can operate with 50% occupancy.
Ismael Vega, general manager of Casino Metro, described the government's determination as “a step in the right direction” while emphasizing that all the credit for returning to normality goes to the people, that have “faithfully complied” with the provisions of the executive orders of the political leaders. "We are arriving little by little and at a safe pace, and we are very pleased in that regard," said Vega.
Regarding the capacity in the casinos, which will operate with 75% occupancy, he said that the change is not very significant because the approach is inclined to regulating the amount of equipment or machines operating, complying with the distancing requirement.
“The permitted capacity right now with 75% is 1,500 people, but I can only let 600 people in because that is the number of chairs and equipment available in the casino when I do the whole distancing procedure. Even so, starting tomorrow (referring to Monday) we will add other tables. And it is important for people to know that although screening will no longer be required, we will continue to exaggerate cleaning and the use of masks. We want people to continue to feel safe in our entertainment environment," he said.
Like other sectors, the casino industry experiences conflicts when recruiting. “I would tell you that it is the most challenging thing going forward, although we are hopeful that in the coming months, things will improve. But, for now, there is conformity allowing us to see a clear path ahead. We see that we are going in the right direction and at a firm pace,” he pointed out.
The 16 casinos operating in Puerto Rico were closed for six months. During that period, losses of up to US$ 25 million per month were estimated. In addition, each casino had to invest in security and maintenance equipment to comply with the prevention protocols imposed by the government and health authorities. Currently, the casinos employ about 2,500 people.
According to the governor, even as the COVID-19 fight against the pandemic continues, health indicators have dropped sharply in recent weeks. Currently, the virus positivity rate in Puerto Rico is 2%, an extremely low percentage figure compared to the 15% recorded during the rebound phase in April. While hospitalizations, which two months ago exceeded 550 cases, are below 100.
Additionally, as of Monday, the mask will not be required in open spaces for people who have completed the vaccination process. However, masks should be required when visiting a private operator establishment that caters to the public. It was also explained that screening, the checking of temperature, at the entrance of businesses or government entities, among others, will no longer be an obligation.
The expectation of the government of Puerto Rico is to achieve herd immunity (with 70% of the population vaccinated) by the end of August. According to the 2020 Census report, the island has 3,285,874 inhabitants. It is estimated that the population able to get vaccinated is close to 2.9 million.
Currently, about 40% of the population has completed the vaccination process, while just over 50% have received at least one dose.