Puerto Rico reported its third death due to COVID-19 on Friday, saying a 48-year-old woman on the island’s western coast had succumbed to the novel coronavirus. It’s the first time an island resident had died due to the growing pandemic, which has killed more than 24,000 worldwide.
In a statement, the Health Department also said it had detected 17 new cases, bringing the island’s total to 79.
The latest victim, also the island’s youngest, died before her test results came back confirming that she had COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, officials said.
With a weak healthcare system and an aging population, Puerto Rico has taken some of the most forceful steps of any U.S. jurisdiction to try to stop the spread of the virus. On Thursday, Gov. Wanda Vázquez announced she was extending a two-week quarantine and lockdown for an additional two weeks, through April 12.
Up until now, all the deaths in Puerto Rico, and many of the cases, have been linked to people who had traveled abroad. It wasn’t clear if the new death was due to “community transmission” — when a person who has no travel history contracts it through a domestic source. However, there is no other report of the coronavirus in the city of Aguadilla, where the woman died in a hospital.
The first fatality took place on March 21 and involved a 71-year-old Italian woman who had been evacuated from the Costa Luminosa cruise ship with breathing problems. Two days later, a 73-year-old-tourist from New York died, also in San Juan.
The head of Puerto Rico’s COVID-19 Task Force, Segundo Rodríguez Quilichini, said he was grateful that the governor had taken the commission’s recommendations to extend the lockdown and maintain social distancing for an additional two weeks, despite the economic toll it will take on the island.
“If everyone follows these measures seriously it will save many lives in Puerto Rico,” he said. “This decision is based on science and, unfortunately, the experience we have seen in Spain, Italy and the United States. We don’t want to see ourselves in that mirror.”
On Thursday, Vázquez suggested President Donald Trump had made a mistake by not taking more forceful measures on the mainland. The statements came as the United States has became the global epicenter of the outbreak. With almost 86,000 cases, it has surpassed China and Italy as the country with the greatest numbers of carriers of the virus .
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Like many jurisdictions, Puerto Rico has been struggling to get enough tests and produce results rapidly.
As of Friday, the island had tested 932 people. Of those, 519 have come back negative results, and 332 are still pending.