Is it Safe to Travel to the Dominican Republic?

Updated: Sep 28, 2020

The headlines keep coming – another American tourists dies in the Dominican Republic. The media is quick to sensationalise each story and the U.S. Government escalates their warning level to two – increased caution.

Canada sets its limit to five and warns its citizens travelling to the Dominican Republic to exorcise a high degree of caution due to a high crime rate.

Other countries around the world have similar warnings for its citizens if they are visiting the Dominican, but these warnings have been in place, usually at the same level, for decades.

Anyone that has ever visited any Caribbean Nation knows there are precautions to take.

But do these deaths, some of which occurred in a relatively local area and within a short time span mean that there is something going on in the Dominican we should be aware of?

Should you cancel your travel plans to the Dominican or leave the Dominican Republic off your travel list?

The Recent Deaths

According to news reports and the U.S. State Department, eight Americans have become ill and died this year in the Dominican Republic, under circumstances prompting questions not only from family members, but from authorities both in the country and in the US.

The first, 67-year-old Robert Bell Wallace from California, died unexpectedly after getting sick at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana on April 14, a family member told Fox News. The family member said Wallace became ill after drinking a scotch from the minibar.

The next three deaths came in late May and more than an hour southwest from the Hard Rock, at neighboring resorts on the southern coast that shared an owner.

Miranda Schaup-Werner, a 41-year-old from Pennsylvania, checked into the Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville on May 25 and started to feel sick after taking a drink from the minibar. She died within a couple of hours.

Maryland residents Cynthia Ann Day, 49, and Nathaniel Edward Holmes, 63, were supposed to have checked out of the neighboring Grand Bahia Principe La Romana on May 30 when a hotel worker found them dead in their room.

Next, Leyla Cox, died June 11 while on vacation from a heart-attack.

Then 55-year-old Joseph Allen, of New Jersey, was found dead in his room June 13 at the Tierra Linda Resort in Sosua.

78-year-old Jerry Curran, a retiree who lived in Florida, died in January after falling ill on the island but his death was not reported by media until all the other deaths started happening.

The Cause of Deaths

Officials have not said what caused Wallace’s death; his stepson said that family members are expecting toxicology reports by the end of June. Government officials said June 6 that autopsy results showed that Schaup-Werner, Day and Holmes all had enlarged hearts, internal bleeding and pulmonary edema, or fluid in the lungs. According to the hotel, Schaup-Werner’s husband said she had had a heart condition.

Prescription drugs, including blood pressure medication and five-milligram doses of the painkiller oxycodone, were found in the room that Day and Holmes had been staying in.

Mixing alcohol and these medications can cause complications including death.

More information will be known when results of toxicology tests, which check for drugs, alcohol, poison and other toxic substances in the body, are available.

The FBI confirmed that it is “assisting the Dominican authorities with their investigation.”

According to the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic, local authorities asked for FBI help for “further toxicology analysis on the recent Bahia Principe, La Romana cases" — results that the FBI said could take up to 30 days.

“The U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo is actively working with the Government of the Dominican Republic and the private sector at the highest levels to ensure that U.S. citizens are safe and feel safe while in the Dominican Republic,” the embassy said in a statement.

The State Department are also helping officials in the Dominican Republic arrangements for the bodies to be sent back to the United States.

Speculation & Recommendations

It is speculated that nearly all of the deaths came shortly after someone had drank alcohol from a mini-bar located in their hotel room. It is too late to say, but it there may be a link between the deaths causing investigators to look into a link between the two.

There is also speculation that perhaps cleaning agents within the hotel rooms may be to blame. If the cleaning staff is not diluting disinfection agents properly, these may be toxic to people, especially to the elderly, to those suffering from heart and lung conditions and those on medication.

Health inspectors, including environmental health and epidemiology specialists, visited the hotels, according to Carlos Suero, spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health to determine exactly what the cause, if any, was in the deaths of the Americans.

Should You Be Worried?

The short answer is no.

30 Million visitors came through the Dominican Republic in the last five years and the vast majority of tourists have had zero issues whatsoever on vacation. The deaths that have been reported, although tragic, involve most elderly individuals with per-existing conditions. This is not to say you should not be cautious when visiting the Dominican and with the knowledge that nearly all of these individuals died shortly after drinking from their mini-bar, perhaps it is wise not to open it up – just to be sure, especially if you are on medication.

Last year, 30 Americans died in the Dominican Republic of non-natural causes, according to the State Department. Those deaths were caused by drowning, accidents, suicide and homicide.

Last year, nearly 2.3 Million Americans visited without incident.

US officials have yet to state that any of these recent incidents are connected in any way.

Matthew Bradley, regional security director of International SOS, said the Dominican Republic is still a safe destination. "These incidents, while recent, in my mind don't indicate Dominican Republic is any less safe than it was before," Bradley said. "I would tell people to continue with trips."

Dr. Robert Quigley, senior vice president and regional medical director for International SOS, said travelers should visit a doctor before their trip, "especially if they might have a chronic medical condition or cardiovascular disease."

He said sleep deprivation and stress can "exacerbate underlying, and sometimes asymptomatic, serious cardiovascular diseases."

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