SAN JUAN – Citing a 96% reduction in the number of new Zika cases since the peak in October, the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. (PRTC) is optimistic heading into 2017. The PRTC launched an educational outreach program in February to dissipate “the fears and communicate the real facts” about Zika, its newest press release reads. Collaborating with the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association (PRHTA) as well as Meet Puerto Rico, the PRTC presented it “Facts not Fear,” campaign. “Communicating the reality that Zika was not growing nearly as rapidly as the CDC had projected, the PRTC worked to change the Zika conversation, and emphasize the reality that reported cases are a fraction of what was projected. Cases are now at about 1 percent of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million population versus forecasts that 25% of Puerto Ricans would eventually have the virus by the end of the year,” according to the Tourism Co.’s statement. “The dramatic decrease in the number of Zika cases in Puerto Rico is a testament to our integrated aggressive program to inform and disseminate the facts and allay the fears. The PRTC worked incredibly hard with the industry and health officials to communicate accurate and precise messages about Zika to the public,” Ingrid Rivera Rocafort, executive director of the PRTC, says in the published statement. “Ultimately, our team has been successful in not only educating our residents but protecting our visitors and our critical tourism industry.” Tourism annually contributes nearly $4 billion to Puerto Rico’s economy and was the first industry to come out of the island’s five-year recession, the public corporation explains in its release. “Since the start of Zika, total hotel registrations from Jan.-Sept. in 2016 are 1.6% above 2015 and 10 million passengers are expected to be welcomed by Puerto Rico airports by the end of 2016,” it reads.

Broadway star Chita Rivera, TV host Maía Celeste, baseball stars Carlos Correa and Iván Rodríguez, and Olympic gold medalist Mónica Puig also helped spread the word about how travelers can experience Puerto Rico worry-free. Medical influencers as well delivered the PRTC’s message. These included the late epidemiologist Dr. D.A. Henderson, scholar at the UPMC Center for Health Security in Baltimore, Maryland; Dr. Jason James, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Baptist Hospital in Miami; and Dr. Joseph Rosado, a primary care and emergency care physician in Orange City, FL. In addition, the World Health Organization declared in November that the Zika virus was no longer considered an international public health emergency, the PRTC adds in its release. “Our collaborative efforts to date in 2016 have been effective in allaying fears, controlling Zika and the data backs it up,” notes Clarisa Jimenez, president and CEO of the PRHTA, assures in the written statement. “It is imperative that we keep our foot on the gas pedal and aggressively continue Tourism Co.: