For the last three weeks, the number of active cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. Virgin Islands has increased steadily, reaching the highest number this year along with the highest number of hospitalizations, officials lamented Monday during the weekly Government House news update.
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr., who advises the territory’s citizens to “take your best shot” at every opportunity, said the Delta variant is about 243 percent more contagious and is causing a serious resurgence in the territory, creating “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” He anticipates dealing with the coronavirus for another year or more and said people should follow the same recommendations as in March 2020 – the beginning of the epidemic.
“Wear a mask,” “avoid gatherings,” “practice social distancing,” and “get vaccinated,” he said.
To people who think the vaccine is some kind of conspiracy by the pharmaceutical industry for some evil end, Bryan said, “Big pharma doesn’t want you to die, they want to keep you alive so they make more money.”
Dr. Esther Ellis, the territory’s epidemiologist, followed Bryan with the week’s COVID statistics. As of Monday, there were 157 active cases and 15 people were hospitalized – five at the Gov. Juan Luis Hospital and 11 at the Schneider Regional Medical Center. Three of the patients are on ventilators in the intensive care units. The infection rate jumped from 3.55 percent last week to 4.25 percent.
“In the last week there have been a record 161 new infections,” she said.
The monoclonal antibodies treatment continues to be used to help lower the severity of symptoms and decrease the likelihood of being hospitalized. Ellis said so far, the treatment has been used on 203 cases at Schneider and 42 at JFL.
In recent COVID tests, a dozen of 84 samples were not identified by strain and are suspected to be the Delta variant, Ellis said. Yale University will confirm the strain this week, she added.
The Delta strain was first discovered in India and is “highly contagious.” The first U.S. case was identified in March, and it is now the dominant variant on the mainland. It also has been confirmed in Puerto Rico.
The virus is more likely to mutate as it affects unvaccinated people and less than 42 percent of Virgin Islanders are fully immunized, according to Ellis. The vaccines are free and 70 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated to achieve community immunity. Shots can be scheduled by calling 340-777-8227 or 340-712-1519.
Ellis said the V.I. portal for travelers will be able to record antibodies, which protects against the virus, as well as vaccinations “next week.” Both will allow travelers to enter the territory without COVID tests. An antigen test, which tests if an individual is infected, also will allow travelers into the Virgin Islands.
Vaccine Lottery Winners Announced
The winners are Grethel Smith from St. Croix and Ronald Hosholder from St. Thomas/St. John. Drawings will be held for nine more weeks with fully vaccinated individuals eligible to win up to $100,000. Winning school personnel will be selected in a separate drawing in August.
Free COVID tests will continue to be administered throughout the week on all three islands. Byran said that as many as 1,000 per day have been given in the past.
St. Croix – Charles Harwood Clinic, 10 a.m. to noon Tuesday and Thursday.
St. Thomas – Home Depot, 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday and the Fort Christian parking lot, 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday.
St. John – The Port Authority gravel yard, 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday.
In other news, Bryan announced that the tax-credit assistance for families will be rolled out by the end of August. Parents are advised that if a child’s Social Security number is not on a 2019 filed tax return, parents should apply at the Social Security Office with the child’s birth certificate to be eligible to receive $300 a month.
Also, the Division of Personnel has authorized retro payment for government retirees starting July 23. About 7,000 retirees will receive up to $1,700 from $10 million in the General Fund, according to the governor.
Bryan talked about school openings and some of the older facilities that will receive upgrades. The 50-year-old St. Croix Central High School has been cleaned, painted and given a new library. Likewise, Claude O. Markoe Elementary, an older school, is having “extensive work.” Arthur Richards Junior High will get a new wing.
At the beginning of the media conference, Bryan sent condolences to the British Virgin Islands whose COVID-19 case numbers have soared recently, especially in young people. For the last year, fatalities held at one or two, but have climbed recently to 17 with three deaths on Sunday alone.
“This is just a chance you don’t have to take,” he said to Virgin Islanders.