The Department of Health, in conjunction with the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA), organized a tabletop exercise last week to bring relevant agencies together to assess the readiness of the Virgin Islands public health and healthcare systems to respond to a public health emergency. This exercise identified areas of strength and opportunities to strengthen the territorial response to a potential outbreak.
Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion and VITEMA Director Daryl Jaschen collaborated on ‘Operation PanPrepared,’ a six-hour tabletop exercise, on Friday, Feb. 21, that allowed for open discussions with various government agencies and private sector partners. The desired outcome was a more structured territorial preparedness plan and many key areas were addressed.
“This process brought together a wide cross-section of the territory’s agencies and private sector partners to practice a simulated response to a potential case of an infectious respiratory disease outbreak, such as COVID19,” said Commissioner Justa Encarnacion. “Through continued collaboration, the USVI has addressed some of our potential gaps and shortfalls.”
Commissioner Encarnacion has been coordinating an interagency COVID-19 task force that meets weekly to discuss international and national updates, and the territory’s level of preparedness.
“VITEMA is committed to bringing all necessary stakeholders to the table for this collaborative process,” said Director Jaschen. “We are confident in our ability to respond should an outbreak impact the territory.”
Other agencies that participated in last week’s successful exercise include: Virgin Islands National Guard, Virgin Islands Port Authority, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard, Juan F. Luis Hospital, Schneider Regional Medical Center, Emergency Medical Services, Department of Labor’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, Department of Public Works, Department of Education, Department of Property and Procurement, Department of Human Services, Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, Department of Finance, Virgin Islands Fire Service, Virgin Islands Police Department, Virgin Islands Bureau of Information Technology, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Office of the Lieutenant Governor, Virgin Islands Judiciary, Office of the Delegate to Congress, West Indian Company Limited, Virgin Islands Hotel and Tourism Association and Limetree Bay Terminals.
Francine Lang, the Health Department’s director of public health preparedness and Dr. Esther Ellis, territorial epidemiologist, are working with the Juan F. Luis Hospital, Schneider Regional Medical Center and other healthcare partners to ensure consistencies in staff education, training, reporting and capacity-building. Another key priority is addressing protocols for the points of entry into the territory.
Encarnacion advises residents that while COVID-19 should be taken seriously; residents should also take precautions to avoid the spread of influenza by getting the flu vaccine, washing hands regularly with soap and warm water, covering the mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, using a flexed elbow when coughing, and avoiding close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms.