A soft opening of restaurants and bars to dine-in guests on Tuesday will give business owners a dry-run and a chance to prepare before visitors begin returning on June 1, according to Gov. Albert Bryan, Jr.
Looking over the numbers since a local stay at home order transitioned two weeks ago to a “safer at home” order with less stringent restrictions, Bryan said during a press conference Thursday that cases of COVID-19 have not increased. Instead, nearly 200 tests conducted during that period have come back negative, while the overall positive count is holding steady at 69, with two active cases being tracked.
Still, there is a “real possibility” of a surge once leisure visitors are allowed to return starting June 1, and Bryan said Thursday that the government has worked to shore up its testing capacity in anticipation. Along with the ability to conduct 1,000 tests per day, equipment is being stockpiled – including 15 new ventilators given this week to the territory’s two hospitals by the Federal Emergency Management Agency – and there is enough of the anti-viral medication Remdesivir on hand to treat 15 patients, according to the governor. A new 24-bed facility at the V.I. National Guard armory on St. Croix has also been completed, along with a COVID-19 wing at the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital to increase bed capacity if needed.
The preparations have set the stage for another milestone in the government’s phased reopening plan, which starts on Tuesday: the ability for restaurants and bars to offer dine-in service, provided that there are either no more than 50 guests, or that the number of guests does not exceed 50 percent of the allowed occupancy rate, whichever is less. Bar stools and tables must be set six feet apart, no parties larger than six are allowed and employees are required to wear facial coverings at all times. Proper hygiene and sanitization stations must also be set up, Bryan said, adding that all guidelines will follow those set by the Centers for Disease Control and National Restaurant Association.
A soft opening before June 1 gives businesses the chance to look at their set up, account for proper spacing, call employees and make sure all the proper equipment is in place to keep the community safe, Bryan said.
On Thursday, the governor also touched on continuing economic stimulus efforts, adding that:
– 8,074 unemployment insurance applications have been received, and 6,629 checks processed for a total $4.6 million;
– 15,731 residential V.I. Water and Power Authority customers have received a $250 credit toward their electric bill, while 3,167 commercial customers have received a $500 credit; and
– More than 12,000 economic stimulus checks, totaling nearly $20 million, have been mailed out to eligible residents.
Bryan also urged residents to avoid packing the beaches over the long holiday weekend.
“These are not normal times,” he said. “The virus is deadly, it has already claimed six lives in our community, so I ask you to please be safe and encourage your family and friends to be safe and adhere to the social distancing rules.”