The U.S. Virgin Islands is in the bottom five of U.S. states and territories in the rate of residents who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 – 52.4 percent – and recorded its first death of a fully vaccinated patient last week, bringing the total to 66 fatalities, V.I. officials said Monday at the weekly Government House press conference. Nine of those 66 have died since Sept. 1.
Dr. Esther Ellis, the territory’s epidemiologist, said the vaccine lowers the risk of becoming severely ill from the virus. The elderly and those who are obese, diabetic, have hypertension, heart and kidney disease are most at risk from the disease, she said.
Ellis said as of Monday afternoon there were 229 active cases in the territory with one person hospitalized on St. Croix and three at the Schneider Regional Medical Center. One patient is breathing on a ventilator, she said.
Several weeks ago, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. talked about leveling mandates for government and healthcare workers but has backed away since then and repeated his change of heart over the last two weeks.
Richard Motta, the governor’s communications chief, who stood in for Bryan at Monday’s news conference, said that the governor is not implementing a mandate at this time. The threat of resignations by health care personnel and other push-backs are some of the reasons why, he said.
Despite President Joe Biden’s request last Thursday for governors to implement vaccine mandates for health care facilities and schools, Motta told the Source later the governor is not planning to order vaccinations at this time. He said he doesn’t believe federal aid will be in jeopardy because the president’s order is targeted at federal government workers.
However, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent a public release on Sept. 9 that the Source received after the news conference. The federal agency said it is “expanding regulations requiring vaccinations for nursing home workers to include hospital, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical settings and home health agencies among others, as a condition for participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.”
Motta eventually said that if Biden mandates immunizations, Bryan will comply, of course.
“The governor stands ready to enforce the president’s mandate – the parts that affect the territory,” Motta said.
Monday’s press conference also announced the winners of the week’s Take the Shot lottery. Tashana Benjamin and Ingrid Iwir, from St. Croix and St. Thomas, respectively, won $100,000 each.
Motta also announced the first child tax credit benefit checks for $300 were sent out last week and eligible parents will receive a check for the next four months.
He also reported that more than 500 families have enrolled in the V.I. Housing Finance Authority’s renters’ assistance to help pay rent and/or utility bills for people impacted by the pandemic. Further information about the Emergency Rental Assistance Program is online at the program’s website and or can be obtained by calling Housing Finance at 340-777-4655.
Throughout the press conference, Motta and Ellis stressed the importance of vaccines, testing, wearing masks and social distancing at every opportunity. To make an appointment for a free test or shot, call the hotlines at 340-712-6299 or 340-776-1579.