A reader wrote to ask “we are curious if you are doing any investigation on what exactly is happening as passengers arrive at the airport on St. Croix? Due to the recent spike in the number of cases, we have called the hotline set up by the USVI Department of Tourism/Department of Health and have been getting conflicting information depending on who we talk to. We have also spoken with three different individuals who have flown in from different destinations over the past week, including one from Arizona, and all three of them said they were not screened at all upon arrival at the St. Croix airport.”
The reader relayed several second-hand accounts, including that on July 9, an American Airlines flight from Miami arrived, and one passenger reported seeing no screening, and no measures other than passengers being given a pamphlet. The person reported several flights between St. Thomas and St. Croix that also had no screening.
Asked about these, Port Authority spokeswoman Monifa Marrero Brathwaite said “all arriving passengers are screened prior to entering the airport terminal on St. Croix and St. Thomas. That screening is being done by the V.I. National Guard at this time.”
“The temperature checks are being done after disembarking. They are checked ramp side prior to entering the terminal. It’s not done on the aircraft,” she added.
Asked if every passenger is being tested and told we had reports of passengers arriving on St. Croix without being checked, Brathwaite said “Yes everyone should be temperature checked upon arrival. I have already contacted the airport manager and the airport operations supervisor at HERA and told them about what was reported to you. They will speak with the National Guard Sgt. in charge of that operation to make sure that is happening.”
Government house spokesman Richard Motta also said temperature checks are being conducted at the airports.
Once a passenger disembarks and gets into the terminal there is a machine that checks their body heat. Individual checks are also being conducted; there are health teams monitoring to see if anyone is coughing or exhibiting any other symptoms and also taking temperatures, he said.
While the Port Authority is looking into the report, the passive nature of the testing machine may have allowed a passenger to come in and not realize they were being screened.
There is no way to confirm COVID if a person is asymptomatic, however.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in January. States and territories began implementing measures to contain its spread in March. On March 22, Gov. Albert Bryan ordered a 30-day pause on most hotel reservations, which indirectly cut air travel to the territory. That restriction was extended, then lifted June 1.
In April, airlines hit pause on most flights to the U.S. Virgin Islands, but resumed, at lower levels, in May. At first, most airlines kept strict social distancing and mask-wearing rules. Mask wearing remained, but many airlines stopped restricting the number of passengers.
In early April, the V.I. National Guard and V.I. Department of Health began screening all passengers from outside the territory. More recently, in late June and early July, the Port Authority installed the thermal cameras at the airports which Motta referred to.