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The importance of citizen input in the fight against COVID-19

Recognizing the citizens’ important role in controlling the spread of COVID-19 on the island, we spoke with engineer Israel Meléndez, Francisco Colón and scientist Heriberto Martínez, members of the COVID-19 Citizen Task Force, about the significance of the private sector’s and the general public’s contribution to the fight against the pandemic. 

In mid-April, professionals from different sectors joined due to a need to inform and analyze data on the pandemic in Puerto Rico. The group, composed of 16 collaborators including doctors, epidemiologists and statisticians, sought to “communicate to the people of Puerto Rico easy to understand metrics and to be able to know where we are in the pandemic,” Martinez explains.  

With more than 30,000 supporters in their networks, they have developed several tools to communicate the status of the pandemic to the country, using data provided by the Department of Health. For example, the Covimeter is a scale that reflects the growth of daily cases and explains, in a simple way, the virus’ behavior on the island.   

According to the Citizen Task Force, the data from the Department of Health lacks metrics and trends. That’s where they come in. To avoid a crisis, Meléndez reiterates the importance of constant analysis to recognize trends, and what they may result in: “It doesn’t mean that there’s a possibility [of a crisis], and that’s why analysis is very important,” he says.  

As for the new executive order established by the governor, Martinez points out that “one piece of information that we believe is missing is what has been learned from contact tracing,” in order to understand the scope of the virus in Puerto Rico.  

Additionally, Colon says that citizen participation “is critical, because handling and navigating this pandemic requires individual discipline, that people observe precautionary measures […] and also requires active government management.” Likewise, Meléndez is confident that we can reverse the direction of the virus, if everyone takes responsibility.  

On the other hand, Meléndez talks about recognizing changes in trends early. “The Covimeter reported the increase rate,” says the engineer. The group warns about the need to address the uncertainty among the population, since there are people with the experience and the tools to establish a long-term strategy to reduce that concern. “In an uncertain environment, there is no economic growth,” says Colón.   

For the agency, establishing a strategy backed by science and being able to outline a plan for the next two years would be the way forward during this emergency. Our system of data analysis and management during the hurricane season was discussed as an analogy for this process: we need to be able to discern when we are on a “warning” vs. a “watch,” and take the right steps to deal with each phase.   

Through its Facebook page, the group posts the latest information and analysis on COVID-19 daily. Visit them here

"In an uncertain environment, there is no economic growth," says Colón.

For the agency, establishing a strategy backed by science and being able to outline a plan for the next two years would be the way forward during this emergency. Our system of data analysis and management during the hurricane season was discussed as an analogy for this process: we need to be able to discern when we are on a “warning” vs. a “watch,” and take the right steps to deal with each phase.   

Through its Facebook page, the group posts the latest information and analysis on COVID-19 daily. Visit them here

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