Puerto Rico entangled in heated public health debate over vaccines and masks

The content originally appeared on: Caribbean News Service

A fiery debate over public health and personal rights gripped Puerto Rico this week, intensifying on Wednesday as legislators clashed with medical experts.

The debate began earlier this month after the administrator of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives announced the mandatory use of face masks, following various COVID-19 cases reported in the seaside Capitol building.

One conservative legislator, Lisie Burgos, refused to wear a mask and was removed from a hearing last week, prompting her to file a lawsuit on Monday that has yet to be resolved. In the meantime, a judge that day ordered the island’s House of Representatives not to “prohibit, prevent or interfere” with Burgos’s prerogative.

Many were outraged by the ruling, noting that the island of 3.2 million people is reporting some 1,100 COVID-19 cases a day, with nearly 25% of tests returning a positive result.

Last November, Puerto Rico’s government also declared a flu epidemic.

Hours after the judge’s ruling on Monday, the president of the House of Representatives declared a state of emergency and announced that all sessions would be held virtually until the end of February.

Puerto Rico’s Senate has said it is not considering similar measures.

As representatives gathered behind their computer screens this week, they tackled a proposed bill that would eliminate vaccine requirements for schoolchildren younger than 5, a proposal that further enflamed the ongoing health debate.

On Wednesday, medical experts condemned the bill.

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