Puerto Rico is now the most vaccinated place in the US
Puerto Rico has weathered a lot in recent years, from Hurricane Maria -- the worst storm in decades, which killed thousands and destroyed most of the island’s power grid -- to earthquakes and a debt crisis.
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The island also hasn’t been spared from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it's still quietly vaccinated the majority of its residents.
According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, a whopping 73% of Puerto Ricans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That figure is higher than every state in the United States and the District of Columbia, including jurisdictions with high vaccination rates like Vermont and Maine. And broken down further, the figures are even more phenomenal.
The New York Times, which has tracked COVID-19 vaccinations nationwide, reported that 99% of Puerto Ricans 65 and older are fully vaccinated.
So, how did Puerto Rico do it? Accessibility was one factor, as nurses brought vaccines to residents’ doorsteps. Among other sectors, employees of restaurants, gyms and grocery stores are also required to be vaccinated. According to the CDC, the Puerto Rico National Guard also developed a vaccine distribution inventory system, and information about the COVID-19 vaccines was distributed online in Spanish.
"Puerto Rico has been committed to health and safety throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and is leading the tourism industry’s recovery," said Brad Dean, the CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, the island's destination marketing organization.
"Our priority to safeguard both residents and visitors has built confidence in this space," the statement continued, "translating to an increase in demand for the destination. Having the highest vaccination rate in the U.S. is a significant milestone, and we thank the exceptional community in Puerto Rico for their commitment to health, safety and economic prosperity."
After a surge caused by the highly transmissible delta variant in August and an earlier surge in April, cases in Puerto Rico have sharply decreased. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 have fallen on the island, with the 14-day death rate dropping 48%. The CDC just lowered its travel advisory from the highest level, 4, to level 3.
Puerto Rico also implemented guidelines for travelers to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Fully vaccinated travelers on domestic flights must upload their official COVID-19 vaccination card through the Travel Declaration Form portal.
Unvaccinated arrivals and those arriving on international flights, regardless of vaccination status, must provide a COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of arrival. Travelers who arrive without a test must upload a test taken on the island within 48 hours of arrival or face a $300 fine. (Travelers don’t have to provide a negative COVID-19 test result to return to the mainland from Puerto Rico, as it’s a U.S. territory.)
Puerto Rico saw a massive resurgence in travel to the island this spring and summer, like other destinations popular with tourists. But this saw tourists flouting the island’s COVID-19 requirements and an alarming increase in violent incidents, which led to extra police patrols assigned to popular tourist areas such as Old San Juan.