Social Distancing and Mask Compliance a Concern as V.I. Coronavirus Cases Climb

A sign at a coffee shop states masks are required to enter. (Source photo by Kyle Murphy)

With nine new coronavirus cases announced by the V.I. Department of Health since June 15, some officials and residents are expressing concern that many in the Virgin Islands aren’t abiding by social distancing guidelines set by the governor and the DOH.

At a press conference on Monday, Gov. Albert Bryan said, “I just want to urge you to really please maintain your vigilance and continue to follow the guidelines that are set by the CDC, as well as our Department of Health.”

“We can not emphasize enough that, if you’re feeling sick, stay at home, call the hotline and get yourself tested,” Bryan said.

After the first two new cases of community spread, the DOH held a press conference on June 19 at which Territorial Epidemiologist Esther Ellis said, “This makes it even more critical at this time to follow all the guidelines.”

Those guidelines are to wear your facial coverings, stay home if you are sick, and, if you experience symptoms such as fever, chills, or body aches, to call the hotline at either 340-712-6299 on St. Croix, or 340-776-1519 in the St. Thomas-St. John district.

In April, the CDC recommended that people start wearing cloth face coverings in settings where social distance is hard to maintain.

The CDC also posted this video about the importance of wearing a mask and how to wear one properly:

Observations made over the past few days by Source writers on St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John indicate that not all residents and visitors are doing what the governor, the DOH, and the CDC are asking them to do.

The observations were gathered after the Source received complaints of people not properly wearing their masks.

At the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands, temperature checks are being performed and people are being required to wear masks in order to enter.

Some restaurants are doing well with enforcement, with clear signs posted that explain how customers can follow guidelines. Others in the service industry appear to be more lackadaisical in enforcing the governor’s orders.

Even with signs posted, cashiers and waitstaff have to remind customers to properly wear their face masks.

A restaurant sign urges patrons to wear a mask unless seated. (Source photo by Kyle Murphy)

While masks need to be off to eat and drink when dining out, only four out of 10 restaurants observed by Source reporters on St. Thomas displayed clear instructions stating masks are required when walking around the restaurant – for example, when getting seated or going to the restroom. The others did not appear to require the same of their customers.

In the restaurants observed, employees were always wearing masks when they interacted with customers.

A security guard on St. John told the Source it is scary how few people are wearing masks at bars at night.

An outdoor restaurant on St. Croix hosted live music recently, but did not require the musicians or the customers to wear masks. The tables looked to be about six feet apart, maybe less. A customer said they believed masks are not required when outdoors, which is false.

Being outside does decrease, but doesn’t eliminate, the risk of being exposed to the coronavirus.

According to the New York Times, “Pandemic life is safer outdoors, in part, because even a light wind will quickly dilute the virus. If a person nearby is sick, the wind will scatter the virus, potentially exposing nearby people but in far smaller quantities, which are less likely to be harmful.”

On St. Thomas, people utilize open-air safari buses to travel affordably across the island. A Source reporter observed that only 11 people out of 40 either waiting for a safari or on the safari were properly wearing a face mask.

A majority of people observed by Source reporters on St. Croix wore masks when going out in public.

Laundromats on St. John are requiring people to wear a mask to enter, a Source writer reported.

Mask-wearing appears not to be common overall by people loitering in the Virgin Islands. At a convenience store on St. Thomas, a Source reporter observed that seven out of 13 people weren’t wearing a mask. On St. John it appeared about half of people – residents and tourists – hanging out in Cruz Bay were not wearing facial coverings while interacting. On St. Croix some people playing dominoes or gathering at the beach were observed not wearing masks.

There were seven gas stations observed; at two of them, the clerk was not wearing a mask.

When asked how often they have to remind people to wear a mask when entering their station, one gas station clerk said “a lot.” They explained that customers feel since it is a quick interaction they don’t have to wear their masks, but that is not the case.

Grocery stores across all three islands are enforcing face coverings, but not everyone is wearing the covering properly. In one grocery store, 85 people were observed wearing face coverings, but 10 were wearing them improperly.

In one pharmacy, the situation was similar; everyone had facial coverings on, but three out of 21 people were wearing them incorrectly without covering their noses.