With one week of safe-at-home down, officials said on Monday that the second week of Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.’s ongoing order is “pivotal” as the territory has not yet begun to experience “the decline in positivity rates we were hoping to achieve,” the governor said.
“This is not unexpected, as we are experiencing the results of those infections that occurred prior to the safe-at-home order being effectuated,” Bryan said at his weekly press briefing. “However, this week is really pivotal and crucial to us all, and we are hoping to see a decline that puts us back to under the 5 percent range or lower. Be patient and diligent in doing what you have to do in helping us to control the spread of the virus.”
In response to a large spike in positive COVID-19 cases, the territory, on Aug. 17, shifted from its blue “open doors” phase to a safe-at-home order that restricted new bookings at hotels, Airbnb’s and other establishments for at least a month, closed non-essential businesses and restricted restaurants to takeout or delivery options only.
At his weekly briefing Monday, the governor amended a few categories, exempting from closure:
– The Census Bureau, its contractors and workers;
– Dive shops, for the purpose of refilling oxygen tanks only to aid the fishing industry;
– Churches, which can hold services with no more than 10 people in the entire sanctuary and provide communion as long as it is presented to receivers in protected containers; and
– Professional services, such as legal services, accounting services and insurance companies.
On a positive note, Bryan said there has been a decline in airline passengers arriving on the islands in the past week, particularly on St. Thomas-St. John, while Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion said positivity rates that had peaked at 15 percent during the first two weeks of August had dropped to a seven-day working average of 10.21 percent. There is also a downward trend in the number of active cases, with 21 less on Monday than the day before, and an increase in the number of recovered cases by 63 in the last three days, Encarnacion said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, “recovered” means that an individual no longer has to be quarantined after 10 days – the territory has maintained a 14-day requirement for safety reasons – and has gone 24 hours without having a fever or using fever-reducing medication. After that time, they are not considered infectious and pose “no threat to others,” even though they can still test positive for up to three months after, Encarnacion said.
She added, however, that while close contact is currently the highest mode of transmission for the virus, the threat of community spread still looms, especially as mass gatherings continue in the territory. Reminding residents of the need to adhere to public health guidelines and to venture out only for essentials such as food, medicine or to care for a loved one, Encarnacion noted, that people should avoid large gatherings at public beaches.
“We must change our pre-COVID behaviors and do what is necessary to keep each other safe,” she said.
Bryan added that along with wearing masks and social distancing, the restriction on mass gatherings also includes being around family members or friends outside the immediate family.