Puerto Rico sees first COVID-19 death as total cases hit 23

Update: On Sunday, Puerto Rico’s Health Department registered two new COVID-19 cases, bringing the island total to 23.

Puerto Rico announced its first death related to COVID-19, saying a 68-year-old Italian woman who had been hospitalized since March 8 succumbed to the illness.

In a statement, the Puerto Rican government said the woman had underlying health issues “that cannot be discussed for reasons of privacy and that kept her from recuperating.”

The woman and her 71-year-old partner had been evacuated from the Costa Luminosa cruise ship after she developed respiratory problems. They were declared COVID-19 positive on March 13, making them two of the island’s first three known patients.

Another Costa Luminosa passenger died due to COVID-19 after he was hospitalized in the Cayman Islands. In addition, 36 passengers of the cruise ship tested positive for COVID-19 in France last week and there are still 719 guests and 864 crew aboard.

While there have been reports of at least one other death in Puerto Rico that many suspect was COVID-19 related, this is the first officially confirmed case. On Sunday, the government said a woman from the municipality of Carolina, who died of COVID-like symptoms, did not test positive for the virus.

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Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory of 3.2 million, has taken some of the most draconian measures to stop the spread of the virus, suspending the arrival of cruise ships, declaring a two-week lockdown and curfew that started March 16, and closing all non-essential businesses. Despite the measures, the number of new cases continues to creep up.

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On Saturday, the government said the Health Department has recorded three new cases and the Veterans Affair Hospital – which keeps its own tally – registered four new cases.

As of Sunday, the island had 23 active cases, the government said.

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As more states, municipalities and countries close their borders, Puerto Rico has asked the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to shutter its airports – a request the federal government has suggested it will reject.

Last week, the governor deployed the National Guard to screen incoming passengers.

In Saturday’s report, the government said it had screened 20,597 incoming passengers, tested nine of them for COVID-19, and had ordered 40 people self-isolate.

In addition, authorities have made 199 arrests and filed 329 charges against people for breaking the curfew or keeping their businesses open.

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Correction: A previous version of this story said 36 passengers and crew tested positive for the coronavirus in France. That number only includes passengers.

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