Getting the Facts Straight on Zika in Puerto Rico

By

By Clarisa Jimenez
Op-Ed Contributor

“Ground Zero?” “Pandemic?” “Hundreds of thousands of cases of Zika virus in Puerto Rico this year?” “Puerto Rico is not prepared!”

None of the statements above reflect the situation on the ground in Puerto Rico.  

So why doesn’t the CDC stick to just facts? That’s all we are asking. The CDC has an obligation to report factual, relevant information to “protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the US.”  As the CDC states in its mission, it saves lives and protects people from health threats. Nowhere in its mission, however, does it state that its objective is to be accomplished through fear. We applaud the CDC’s work on Zika and its critical science and health information that keeps us safe from disease and death, but we are deeply disturbed by its continued messaging machine of speculation and hype that has the ability to destroy economies.

In Puerto Rico, less that one half of one percent of the population are infected with the Zika virus.  Of course, certain segments of the population including pregnant women and those planning to become pregnant must exercise extra precaution and follow CDC guidelines, but we are taking all possible measures in Puerto Rico to prevent the spread of the virus through education and activation.

As experts dealing with mosquito borne illnesses, we are working as diligently on this situation as we have in the past.

Our hotels are in the business of caring for our guests and insuring they experience our tropical paradise in the safest and most pleasurable way…worry free. That’s what they do best day in and day out under normal circumstances, and now they are being even more diligent. Hotels are continually spraying properties with repellent, actively chlorinating and monitoring swimming pools, educating their staff and guests through toolkits highlighting Zika safety, and providing guests the correct type of insect repellent—or having it readily available for purchase.

Tourism, according to Puerto Rico’s Planning board, represents 7 percent of Puerto Rico’s GDP. Throughout the recession, tourism is the only industry that has consistently shown signs of growth. That means more jobs, more paychecks, more opportunities. Why would we undermine one of the only industries that will help Puerto Rico recover in its critical time of need? Responsible dissemination of health information is one thing, but Zika messaging with its editorial embellishment has moved into fear mongering, resulting in detrimental actions that have negative consequences for our industry and Puerto Rico’s economy.

Let’s stick to the facts and report it that way and let the informed tourist decide.

Clarisa Jiménez is the President & CEO of the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association.

Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.