STT COVID-19 Infection Rate Surges Despite Vaccine Availability

This Health Department graph shows cumulative COVID-19 cases by island as of June 15, showing the recent rise on St. Thomas. (Image courtesy of the Department of Health)

There are 92 active COVID-19 cases as of June 15 and the numbers are rising, the Health Department said in a statement Wednesday. The territory marked its 30th death from the infectious disease on Monday. The Health Department is urging residents to get vaccinated and said monoclonal antibody treatments are available to those who become infected and meet the criteria.

In Wednesday’s statement, Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion and the V.I Department of Health team said the COVID-19 situation remains a grave concern and the surge of positive cases on St. Thomas shows epidemiologists that not enough people have been vaccinated.

This, they say, is also evident in the recent hospitalizations and deaths.

“When more people become vaccinated, we will reach closer to achieving community immunity,” the statement reads.

The Health Department said COVID-19 vaccines are effective and can keep you from getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Getting vaccinated also protects the most vulnerable people around you. You can still get COVID-19, but it is less likely to result in severe illness or death.

Meanwhile, everyone is urged to wash their hands frequently, practice social distancing, stay home when sick, and get the COVID-19 vaccine. Mild side effects are expected after getting vaccinated and everyone reacts differently to the vaccine, the statement said. Some common side effects reportedly include a sore arm near the injection site, a low-grade fever, a headache, muscle pain, fatigue, and chills.

Anyone age 12 and older can get the COVID-19 vaccine by walking into any of the territory’s Community Vaccination Centers, by calling 340-777-8227, or by scheduling yourself online. Community Vaccination Centers are located at the Nissan Center on St. Croix and at the Community Health Clinic on St. Thomas.

According to the Health Department, of 3,747 people who have tested positive in the territory, only 13 were vaccinated. Of those, eight had no symptoms at all and the rest had very minor symptoms. None required any medical intervention.

Meanwhile, the recent surge of new cases on St. Thomas has brought unvaccinated people to the hospital with as many as eight patients being admitted at the same time in one hospital, the statement said.

For those who may get COVID-19 even after being fully vaccinated, their immune system is primed by the vaccine so it can recognize it quickly. Their body can work to neutralize the virus before it makes them sick or limits them to only minor symptoms. The goal of the vaccine is to prevent severe illness and death, the Health Department statement reads.

The longer it takes the community to get vaccinated, the more chance the virus has to mutate within the community. Mutations can make the virus more contagious and/or more virulent and also potentially could be resistant to the vaccine in the future.

The Health Department’s  Division of Epidemiology recently received preliminary results that show 19 probable cases of the variant B.1.1.7 by qPCR (“the U.K. Variant”). Full sequencing is being conducted and confirmatory results will be available within the next week, Wednesday’s statement said. B.1.1.7 is estimated to be 40 percent to 80 percent more transmissible than the wild-type SARS-CoV-2, the original strain, with most estimates occupying the middle to higher end of this range.

The Health Department statement said it is critical that if you may have been exposed to the coronavirus or are sick, you report your symptoms or your exposure by calling the Epidemiology Hotline at 340-712-6299 or 340-776-1519. If you have been confirmed positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 and are not well, seeking care is crucial to reducing the risk of serious illness and preventing death. If you have a medical emergency, call 911.