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A Tale of Two Viruses

Most people are familiar with Puerto Rico’s recent disasters: Hurricane Maria in 2017, earthquakes in 2020 and the coronavirus continuing now… but many have forgotten about the virus that crippled Puerto Rico’s fragile economy in 2016.

Aedes mosquito: cbs newsapp James Gathany

For six months Puerto Rico was like a leper colony….do not go near there. The tourism industry was devastated. In February 2016 the Brandenton Herald reported that that the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention visited the island and predicted (based on previous outbreaks of mosquito born illnesses of chikungunya and dengue) that 20% of the population could be infected with Zika by the end of the year or 700,000 people. The number of cases turned out to be far less.

MLB (major league baseball) moves Puerto Rico series amid concerns about Zika virus.

ESPN News Service May 6, 2016

Alejandro Garcia Padilla, the governor, told the local newspaper El Nuevo Dia, “It’s ironic that athletes are willing to go to Brazil to the Olympics and don’t want to come to Puerto Rico,”  The baseball games moved to Miami which soon became a zika hotspot.


$44.5 million in losses reported Yalixa Rivera Cruz in EL Nuevo Dia 25 August 2016  “caused by an avalanche of cancellations.”

Even as Puerto Rico followed guidelines, people didn’t come. By August the problem had moved to other places and Puerto Rico was left to recover.

Recogen casi 42,000 gomas en San Juan en campaña de prevención del zika.
También se han recogido 95 millones de libras de escombros desde que se declaró la epidemia.

El Nuevo Dia 12 April 2016

In a campaign to prevent Zika, San Juan picks up 42,000 tires. They also pick up 95 million pounds of debris since the epidemic was declared.


I never knew anyone who got Zika, although I know people who’ve had dengue and chikungunya.  Zika is gone for now….dengue and chikungunya are not. Tires are still a problem on the island; storm drains are still blocked; mosquito breeding grounds are still here. It doesn’t seem to bother tourists.

Getty image, Ricardo Arduenga
El Nuevo Dia, Ramon Tonito Zayas

Why did I write this blog? What’s my point? I kept thinking about the two viruses and their differences. I kept thinking about all the things that have happened to Puerto Rico in its recent history.  I decided to tell the story as a tribute to Puerto Rico and its people. Throughout all the recent disasters the island has gone through, both economic and physical, the island survives; the people are resilient.

Puerto Rico has become an island of old people; the birthrate has dropped and many young people have left for better opportunities “afuera”. I hope they will return if things improve. I hope environmental issues are not ignored and coastal areas are not developed. I hope the island is not gentrified to the extent Puerto Rico is no longer Puerto Rican.

We still don’t know the final outcome of Covid19 in Puerto Rico and beyond. I hope some good things come out of this period. I’m trying to stay optimistic. Right now I can think of one thing: I renewed my driver’s license online. 🙂 If you know CESCO, then I think you’ll agree that this is one kind of progress worth keeping. I hope there are more.

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