And just like that, it seems like we are getting back to normal: EO 2022-019 and AO 2022-533 dropped most COVID-19 measures…
On March 7, 2022, Governor Pedro R. Pierluisi signed Executive Order 2022-019 (“EO 2022-019” or the “Executive Order”) to, among other matters, lift: capacity restrictions, masks mandates, vaccination mandates, and proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 testing screening, considering the reduction of COVID-19 infections and low positivity rate.
This Executive Order will become effective on March 10, 2022, and will remain in force, unless amended or voided by a new executive order or by operation of law. Pursuant to the EO 2022-019, the Secretary of Health also issued the Administrative Order Number 2022-533 (“AO 2022-533”) on March 9, 2022, to address some specific areas that needed specificity.
For your convenience, this Alert highlights the major modifications in this new Executive Order.
- MANDATORY MASK USE (SECTION 2 OF THE EXECUTIVE ORDER)
EO 2022-019 lifted the mask mandate in outdoor and indoor areas, with certain exceptions:
- Masks are still required in health facilities, such as hospitals, emergency rooms, doctor’s offices, health centers, clinics, laboratories, and pharmacies.
- Masks are still required for people who visit long-term care homes for the elderly and its employees.
- The Executive Order recommends the use of masks in indoor areas where the vaccinations status of all those present cannot be verified.
The Health Department may require the use of masks in other settings as it deems necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19. According to the AO 2022-533, the use of masks is also required for:
- People who visit community homes where people with intellectual disabilities are treated and its employees.
- All the correctional population and all employees of correctional institutions in Puerto Rico.
- People who use public transportations and all its employees.
Administrative Order Number 2022-533, also regulates the use of masks in childcare centers (Head Start and Early Head Start, included), private and public schools, and universities as instructed by the EO 2022-019.
According to AO 2022-533, masks are required in closed classrooms or close spaces, pursuant to the CDC’s guidelines.
Also, this Administrative Order establishes that the use of masks is optional in outdoor areas of childcare centers, public or private schools, and universities. Likewise, the use of masks is optional for students who suffer autism spectrum disorder or other applicable condition, as certified by a doctor. In cases of special education, a reduced tuition per classroom may be implemented.
Nonetheless, each person may, at their sole discretion, continue using masks. Therefore, no individual or private entity can prevent anyone from continuing to use a mask.
Private and public establishments may, at their sole discretion, implement the health measures that they understand correspond to their type of operation, including mask requirements.
AO 2022-533, clarifies that if masks requirements are implemented, establishments have to provide reasonable accommodation to the deaf community, but without limiting to allowing the momentary removal of the mask to promote an effective communication, use of clear masks, and/or the use of any other protection equipment that allows nonverbal communication.
The Executive Order recommends continuing with other precautionary measures, such as maintaining social distancing (6-feet) between each other and other people outside the family nucleus, avoid crowding, and regular hand washing with soap and water, or hand sanitizer.
- CAPACITY RESTRICTIONS (SECTION 4 OF THE EXECUTIVE ORDER)
EO 2022-019 lifted all capacity restrictions. Therefore, all businesses/retailers can operate to full capacity.
Nonetheless, private and public establishments may, at their sole discretion, implement the health measures that they understand correspond to their type of operation, including capacity restrictions.
III. MANDATORY VACCINATION (SECTION 5 OF THE EXECUTIVE ORDER)
EO 2022-019 lifted all vaccination mandates.
Nevertheless, the Executive Order delegated to the Secretary of the Health Department to issue recommendations regarding COVID-19 vaccination for the entire population. It also orders the Secretary of the Health Department to make the necessary efforts to continue promoting vaccination and the booster in all applicable sectors.
The Secretary of the Health Department will continue making the determinations regarding the health certificates and vaccination for all students.
- MANDATORY PROOF OF VACCINATION OR NEGATIVE COVID-19 TEST SCREENINGS TO VISITORS (SECTION 6 OF THE EXECUTIVE ORDER)
Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test is no longer required for visitors to public and private establishments; such as: restaurants (including fast foods and food courts), bars, “chinchorros”, “cafetines”, sport bars, movie theaters, community or activity centers (where family activities are being held), and any other establishments that serves drinks or prepared food, such as hotels, inns, beauty salons, barber shops, esthetic salons, spas, gyms, and casinos.
Nonetheless, private establishments may, at their sole discretion, implement the health measures that they understand correspond to their type of operation, including demanding proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test to its visitors.
- CAN EMPLOYERS REQUIRE THEIR EMPLOYEES TO BE VACCINATED?
EO 2022-019 does not address private employers’ vaccination mandates to their employees, but AO 2022-533 does. According to said administrative order, employers may require their employees to be vaccinated, subject to the applicable medical and/or religious exceptions. We encourage employers to also follow the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) (when applicable).
It is important to mention that EO-2022-533 clarifies that any private or public entity that is subject to CMS federal regulations, that demands vaccination as part of their mandates, must equally require all personnel and visitors to show proof of vaccination. All other health businesses may, at their sole discretion, establish all protocols that they deem pertinent regarding vaccination.
As always, our firm is available to answer any questions that may arise regarding the effects and consequences of the abovementioned orders. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*The content of this Alert has been prepared for information purposes only. It is not intended as, and does not constitute, either legal advice or solicitation of any prospective client. An attorney-client relationship with Estrella LLC cannot be formed by reading or responding to this Alert. Such a relationship may be formed only by express agreement with Estrella LLC.*