Israel Meléndez Ayala, 34, a longtime resident of Old San Juan, saw many tourists without masks when he and his partner went out to walk their dog this week.
“They were behaving as if no one else existed in Old San Juan,” Meléndez Ayala told NBC News. “I don’t have a problem with people trying to have a good time, but they have to be respectful. We’re still living in the middle of a pandemic, and people can’t come here and act as if the virus doesn’t exist. … They have a sense of entitlement and apathy I don’t understand.”
Another resident who lives across from an Airbnb apartment in Old San Juan, Evelyn López, said tourists staying there often have “loud music, speak loudly and engage in altercations.”
“At night here, it’s almost as if we had no curfew,” López told WKAQ. “Especially on the weekends, people go on until 1, 2, even 3 a.m.” The island currently has a midnight curfew.
With much of the world’s travel limited, Puerto Rico is becoming a popular destination for mainland Americans.
As Puerto Rico continues to reopen and welcome more tourists, experts and residents worry that travelers’ unwillingness to follow Covid-19 protocols could reverse some of the progress they’ve made so far.
Just last weekend, the police issued over 500 fines, including 110 for not wearing a mask, López Figueroa said. Puerto Rican police vowed to increase their presence in tourist areas such as Condado, Old San Juan, Santurce and Isla Verde to ensure tourists follow the curfew.
Since the start of the pandemic, at least 1,079 have been arrested for violating Covid-19 restrictions put in place by executive orders, López Figueroa said last week, adding that Puerto Rican police have received at least 3,689 complaints over Covid-19 violations.
While police increase their presence, local business owners in Santurce said in a statement they are worried that the issues around tourist behavior and the ensuing crackdown will impact their businesses.
The Puerto Rico Tourism Company announced this week that it launched an English-language educational campaign to alert tourists of the island’s Covid-19 restrictions and the consequences of not following the rules.
“Those visits have an impact on our economy,” Pierluisi said. “Yes, everyone is welcome, but what we do warn everyone is that there is an executive order that must be followed and it applies to everyone, from visitors to residents.”
Nicole Acevedo is a reporter for NBC News Digital. She reports, writes and produces stories for NBC Latino and NBCNews.com.