Delta Variant of COVID-19 Confirmed in the USVI, Health Department Says

V.I. Health Department employees prepare to give free COVID-19 tests on St. Croix. The department is urging residents to get vaccinated against the virus, with free vaccines available at its pop-up testing sites. (Source photo by Diana Dias)

The Delta variant of COVID-19 has been confirmed in the territory, the V.I. Health Department announced Wednesday as it urged residents to get vaccinated against the virus.

The department’s Epidemiology Division has been working with Yale University to test samples from positive COVID-19 cases, and “full sequencing results now show that two of the 12 samples not previously identified in the territory are confirmed to be of the Delta variant (B.1.617.2),” the department said in a news release.

While other variants have been confirmed in the territory – including the U.K. or Alpha variant, as well as Beta, Iota and Epsilon – Delta is particularly troublesome as it is highly contagious and is linked to an exponential surge in cases on the U.S. mainland and in the British Virgin Islands, which recorded 6 COVID-19 deaths between July 18 and July 20, according to its Ministry of Health and Social Development. As of July 18, the BVI had 1,604 confirmed active coronavirus cases.

The USVI recorded its 33rd COVID-19 death, an 80-year-old St. Thomas woman, on Tuesday.

“New cases continue to rise amongst unvaccinated individuals. As of July 20, there are 165 cases in the territory and the positivity rate is 4.13%. With this surge in positive cases, there is a greater chance for the virus to mutate. Identifying this variant in one district only indicates to us that it has already covered the whole territory as inter-island travel heightens the spread,” the Health Department said.

The BVI held a drive-through vaccination clinic on July 17 and 18 that saw more than 800 people receive their shots and will do so again from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 20-24 at the Festival Village grounds in Tortola, said Minister for Health and Social Development Carvin Malone.

New travel restrictions for arrivals to the USVI from the BVI have been put into place since the outbreak in that territory on June 28, requiring a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours of travel, rather than the usual 5 days, but vaccination remains the best defense against the virus, the V.I. Health Department has said.

“The Delta strain is now the dominant strain in the United States and is highly contagious. Mutations can make the virus more virulent and could potentially cause it to be resistant to the vaccine in the future. The sooner more residents get vaccinated, the risk of the virus mutating will decrease,” the department said.

Hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19 are preventable because the vaccines are protective against all known variants and are readily accessible across the territory, the Health Department said. “The hesitancy or unwillingness to get vaccinated also harms our efforts to achieve community immunity,” it said.

Anyone 12 and older can get the COVID-19 vaccine by walking into any of the government’s Community Vaccination Centers, by calling 340-777-8227, or by scheduling yourself online.

St. Croix’s Community Vaccination Center is located at the Nissan Center, which is in La Grande Princesse, adjacent to the Honda Dealership and The Paint Shop, on the same side of the street as Food Town.

On St. Thomas, the Community Vaccination Center is located at the Community Health Clinic on the second floor at the Schneider Regional Medical Center.

The department’s epidemiology hotline remains open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. for callers to report suspected cases of COVID-19 at 340-712-6299 or 340-776-1519. Free vaccines also are offered at the Health Department’s weekly pop-up testing sites.

Anyone can pre-register for pop-up testing online. The following are upcoming events:

• St. Croix at the Charles Harwood Complex: Thursday, July 22nd from 10 a.m. to noon.

• St. Thomas at the Fort Christian Parking Lot: Thursday, July 22 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

• St. John at the VIPA Gravel Yard: Wednesday, July 21 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.