Puerto Rico Extends Lockdown and Curfew, Imposes Additional Restrictions

NOTE: Because the COVID-19 situation is dynamic, with new governmental measures each day, employers should consult with counsel for the latest developments and updated guidance on this topic.

On March 30, 2020, following the recommendations of the Medical Task Force convened to address the COVID-19 pandemic, Puerto Rico Governor Hon. Wanda Vazquez-Garced issued two additional executive orders to help contain the virus.  The first, Executive Order 2020-29 (“OE 2020-29”), is of particular significance to employers as it extends the curfew and lockdown provisions currently in effect and establishes additional conditions upon which certain exempt businesses may continue to operate.  The second, Executive Order 2020-30 (“OE 2020-30”), establishes controls with respect to individuals arriving in Puerto Rico from international or domestic flights. Specifically, OE 2020-30 orders these individuals to remain under a compulsory 24/7 quarantine for 14 days, during which time they cannot visit any public place or receive visitors, except for authorized health or government officials designated to monitor their progress.

EO 2020-29 authorizes different government agencies with regulatory authority over the services at issue to interpret the order and provide guidance.  To this effect, as was the case with EO-2020-23, we can expect additional guidance within the coming days.  Additionally, government agencies that identify additional essential or emergency services that are not currently exempted by the Executive Order, shall submit a request for exemption to the Governor’s Secretary, which shall be reviewed for approval.

Further, OE 2020-29, issued pursuant to the Governor’s emergency powers, mandates the following:

  1. Extends the current lockdown until April 12, 2020. During this time, every citizen must stay at home, 24/7, and can only go out for one of the following listed reasons:
    • To attend medical appointments, hospital or laboratory.
    • To provide assistance, care, food or transportation to senior citizens, minors, dependents, people with disabilities or especially vulnerable people who require some type of medical or professional care, provided the necessary precautions are taken to prevent contagion.
    • To acquire food, pharmaceuticals and/or first aid products.
    • To go to a financial institution for emergency or urgent transactions.
    • To receive any of the exempt services specified in the subsequent sections of this Order.
  2. Prohibits homeowners from hosting meetings and social gatherings and establishes penalties for noncompliance.
  3. Except for emergency situations (i.e., purchasing food, medicines or first aid products, or going to financial institutions) or as otherwise permitted, substantially restricts the use of motor vehicles, alternating the days during which citizens can use their vehicles on the basis of the last digit of the vehicle’s license plate. Vehicles with license plates ending with even numbers or a letter may only be used on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while vehicles with license plates ending with odd numbers may only travel on public roads on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
  4. Orders a 14-day lockdown period for any person who has been infected with COVID-19 or who has a reasonable suspicion of having been so infected.
  5. Extends the closure of government operations, as well as all commercial activity in Puerto Rico, from March 31, 2020, until April 12, 2020, both dates inclusive, except as otherwise provided.  OE 2020-29, however, establishes as exempt commercial establishments dedicated to the following:
    • Retail or wholesale sale of food including prepared foods, to be exclusively sold through the “drive-thru”, “carry-out” or delivery models, supermarkets, or those related the food distribution chain, including animal food. Grocery stores and supermarkets, however, must remain closed on Sundays.
    • Medicines or medical equipment and their distribution chains.
    • Pharmacies,1 but only for the sale of medicines and hygiene products.
    • Gas stations2 and their distribution chain.
    • Banking or financial institutions and, under certain circumstances, pawnshops.
    • Nursing homes.
    • Organizations or groups that provide services to meet basic needs for economically disadvantaged populations.
  6. Provides that as long as the services are offered in an emergency situation and the service provider coordinates service by telephone or email and ensures that all safety and hygienic measures are taken, the following individuals or companies can operate:
    • Plumbers, electricians, exterminators and other services necessary to maintain the health, safety and essential operations.
    • Roadside assistance and locksmith services.
    • Package delivery services.
    • Funeral services, as long as no funeral is held where the public may gather.
    • Companies that offer vehicle repair or parts, which can operate in case of emergencies only Wednesdays and Thursdays between 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m., and by appointment only, as they may not open to the general public.
    • Hardware stores, which may only operate Fridays and Saturdays, between 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. and by appointment only, as they may not open to the general public.
    • Installation, repair, maintenance and rehabilitation of critical telecommunications infrastructure.
  7. To the extent possible, all businesses authorized to operate by the Executive Order are encouraged to give preference to hospital staff, technological laboratories and public service agents.
  8. Dental offices shall remain closed. They can, however, take measures to perform emergency procedures that shall be scheduled with the patient by phone.
  9. All elective medical procedures must be suspended. All doctors shall take measures to determine the closing of their offices and only see patients in emergency situations. All specialized treatment centers, such as for dialysis, cancer and others, are exempted and shall continue offering their services for the benefit of their patients.
  10. The following individuals are exempt from compliance with the lockdown:
    • public, private, state and federal security agency employees;
    • Healthcare professionals, including mental health professionals, hospital staff, pharmacies, pharmaceutical, bioscience installations or health centers.
    • Personnel working in the wholesale supply chain and manufacturing of goods and food, including those necessary for agricultural activity like feed stores, from its origin through to the consumer sales establishments, including fresh food stands (kiosks) established prior to March 15, 2020, as long as they take adequate social distancing and health measures and serve one client at a time.
    • Personnel working with critical infrastructure and utilities.
    • Call center personnel.
    • Airport and port personnel.
    • Journalists and media communication personnel.
    • Citizens attending to emergency or health situations.
    • Officials performing essential work in the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches.
  11. Beginning March 31, 2020, toll payment will be reestablished. During the term of the Executive Order, however, no fines will be levied for not having a balance available in an Autoexpreso account, inasmuch as the re-charging stations will be closed. 

See Footnotes

1 There is a further limitation on pharmacies which seems to be limited to their Sunday operations.  Pursuant to a press release issued by the Governor’s office a short time after OE 2020-29 was issued, it appears that on Sundays they may only sell medicines and hygiene products.

2 There is a further limitation on gas stations which seems to be limited to their Sunday operations.  Pursuant to a press release issued by the Governor’s office a short time after OE 2020-29 was issued, it appears that on Sundays they may only sell fuel.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.