Puerto Rico Requires Businesses to Close at Midnight, Limits Alcohol Sales as COVID Surges

Officials in Puerto Rico have implemented new business restrictions for the next two weeks on the island after struggling to handle a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Private businesses open to the public must be closed from midnight to 5 a.m. and alcohol sales are prohibited during that time. Also, gatherings of 250 people or more are now not allowed.

These mandates will remain in effect until January 18.

Governor Pedro Pierluisi ordered all restaurants to reduce indoor seating to 50 percent capacity and outdoor seating to 75 percent capacity until January 16. People who want to enter businesses selling food or drinks must show a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination.

The government implemented the new measures after a reported 30 percent positivity rate for COVID-19, the highest reported rate for the island since the pandemic started.

More than 500 people are currently hospitalized from the virus and a third of the total cases reported since the beginning of the pandemic have occurred in the past month.

In three weeks the daily reported cases per 100,000 people increased from three to 225, said statistician Rafel Irizarry.

Roughly 85 percent of people in Puerto Rico have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination and more than 70 percent received their second dose.

However, at least 40 percent of people fully vaccinated have yet to receive their booster shot.

Puerto Rico COVID-19 Surge
Puerto Rico required businesses to close after midnight and limited alcohol sales after a surge of COVID-19 cases on the island. Above, a registered nurse stirs a nasal swab in testing solution after administering a COVID-19 test at same-day testing on July 14, 2021, in Los Angeles. Mario Tama/Getty Images

The government has reported more than 201,000 confirmed cases and more than 3,300 deaths. Officials noted the third of all cases reported since the pandemic began have occurred in the past month and many of them were linked to a two-day outdoor concert held in December.

The increase in cases has caused temporary shortages of home testing kits, with people taking to social media to share places where they've run out or are still available, while some government-run testing sites have closed early after exhausting testing kits for the day.

Meanwhile, the Association of Hospitals of Puerto Rico urged people to stop visiting emergency rooms to request tests because the demand was overwhelming and preventing staff from treating urgent cases.

Restaurant employees and those who work in health and education also were ordered to receive their booster shots by January 15.

In addition, the government recently required that all cruise ship passengers who disembark must be fully vaccinated and provide a negative test taken 48 hours prior to arrival, a move that caused several cruise ship companies to cancel visits to Puerto Rico.

Last month, Pierluisi announced that all those flying from the U.S. mainland to Puerto Rico must present a negative test taken 48 hours prior regardless of their vaccination status.

Passengers lacking a test must take one within 48 hours of arrival or face a heavy fine, while those who are not vaccinated must remain in quarantine for seven days regardless of whether they test negative.

On Monday, the University of Puerto Rico, the island's largest public university, announced it would offer classes online for all of January given the rise in cases.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.