Good news for residents awaiting economic stimulus checks or credits: the first wave of approximately $10 million in checks will all be mailed by Friday and credits on electricity bills have started to come through, according to Gov. Albert Bryan, Jr.
Bryan said at a press briefing Thursday that ratepayers who haven’t seen their credits applied through the V.I. Water and Power Authority by June should check to see if there is an issue. Meanwhile, he assured residents worried about not getting their economic stimulus funds that more than $80 million is in the government’s coffers for payout. There’s no other way for the government to spend it and what isn’t used would have to be sent back, Bryan said.
Monday, approximately 2,500 in checks totaling $3.9 million were mailed, and the remaining $6 million should be pushed out Friday. There’s no truth to reports of one district getting more checks than that the other, Bryan added, saying that anyone who is eligible to get a check will as soon as possible.
Unemployment checks have also been put through the assembly line; Bryan said the Labor Department’s staff has cut the number of checks it would typically receive in a two year period in the past 60 days for a total $3.3 million. An additional $600 stipend through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program is expected to be rolled out next week and continued weekly until July 1, he said.
Meanwhile, V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency Director Daryl Jaschen said during Thursday’s briefing that the territory is already starting to plan ahead for hurricane season, which is less than two weeks away, but is looking at how to adjust some of its usual efforts – such as the opening of shelters – to keep in compliance with social distancing guidelines. Protecting both shelter employees and residents in a smaller enclosed area is important, for example, not only from the dangers of a storm but from possible infection from the virus, he said.
A tabletop exercise on Friday will give VITEMA time to go over local protocols and determine where and how to adjust.
The territory’s COVID-19 count has held steady for the past few days and Bryan said there have been no new cases on St. Thomas for the past two weeks. Currently, 1,278 individuals have been tested with 1,164 tests coming back negative, 66 positive, and 45 pending. Of the positive cases, two are active – including one patient at Schneider Regional Medical Center on a ventilator – and 61 have recovered. Six deaths have now been recorded, including one in the past few days who Bryan confirmed to be the 45 year-old son of the fourth and fifth victims.
According to Territorial Epidemiologist Dr. Esther Ellis, the patient at Schneider Regional – a sailor aboard a vessel who was allowed into the territory for medical treatment – has been showing signs of improvement with the use of convalescent plasma, an experimental therapy that involves transfusing the blood serum of recovered COVID-19 patients into active ones. A recent national study confirmed that the treatment is safe, and Ellis said during the press briefing that the territory is registered to receive convalescent plasma through the Mayo Clinic’s expanded access program.
Ellis also urged residents to continue using masks while out and about, and noted concerns from business owners about residents claiming to suffer from respiratory illnesses to avoid wearing them. Doing so harms the entire community, she said, and offered tips – including not going out when it is humid, asking others to go shopping or run errands, using a cloth mask made of breathable fabric – to help make the process easier.