Gov. Albert Bryan declared a state of emergency Friday and canceled Saturday’s St. Croix St. Patrick’s Day Parade after confirming six individuals are being monitored by health officials, with one hospitalized, for potential exposure to the new COVID-19 coronavirus.
St. Thomas Carnival is likely to be canceled, but no decision had been made. He stressed there were no confirmed cases in the Virgin Islands during a news conference Friday at Government House.
(Press conference can be viewed at the Government House Facebook page here.)
“As of today, we have no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the Virgin Islands, but we know it’s only a matter of time,“ he said. “I declare a state of emergency in the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
The governor instructed the public to stay home if sick and to call 340-712-6299 or 340-776-1519 if they think they are infected. Symptoms include a high fever, coughing, but not a runny nose, according to Bryan.
Only those infected in an emergency situation should go to the hospital and those with milder cases should stay home, wash their hands frequently and “socially distance” themselves by keeping six feet away from others, he said.
“We will come to you,” he said, adding to stay home unless instructed by medical personnel to go to the emergency room.
A formal state of emergency declaration allows the government to access special funding, freeze prices and put a moratorium on mass gatherings.
The governor then announced the cancellation of Saturday’s St. Croix St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
A decision on holding the St. Thomas Carnival will be made at a later date, he said.
“I can tell you now, more than likely, Carnival will be cancelled,” Bryan said.
Public schools won’t be closed now, because of the burden placed on working parents and children who need school meals. Closing the schools could be among the “next steps,” and Bryan said on-line teaching is being explored.
Director Richard Evangelista and the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs have been notified to institute price controls, the governor added.
Bryan placed Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion in authority over agencies and health facilities. She said 1,000 test kits and approval of St. Croix’s testing laboratory are expected “any day now.” Kits and other supplies should be replenished as needed, she added.
Encarnacion said once the testing program is operative, accurate results will take about 24 hours. National and private labs will be available for results as needed.
Current priorities are surveillance, detection and containment, the commissioner said. Private physicians will not conduct tests but were called upon by the commissioner to help by recognizing symptoms, notifying the Health Department, collecting samples if available and disbursing information.
Seniors are the most vulnerable to serious illness from COVID-19 and Kimberly Causey-Gomez, Human Services commissioner, said the department will follow guidelines from the federal government. She announced that the territory’s three senior centers will be closed and Queen Louise Home for the Aged and the Herbert Grigg home will not allow visitors. Head Start remains open at this time, but children or parents who are ill should stay home, Causey-Gomez said.
A registry for persons 60 years or older who live alone or are disabled should call the Health Department to have their names and information recorded so they can be helped. St. Thomas residents should call 340-774-0930, ext 4018; on St. Croix, call 340-773-6630 and the number on St. John is 340-776-6334.
Daryl Jaschen, director of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency has been coordinating with federal and local agencies to prepare to move and airlift patients if necessary.
Since January, there have been conversations about how to prepare for the pandemic with federal partners and about 100 individuals every week, the governor said. Every Monday, the administration has a briefing with Vice President Mike Pence and active conversations have been held between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and V.I. Health Department.
“We’re getting the most up to date information as is possible,” Bryan said, adding it is updated almost hourly by the CDC.
There is no indication how much the new coronavirus will harm the territory’s economy. Some cruise lines have cancelled and postponed visits to the Virgin Islands. Bryan met in Miami recently with cruise line executives and said they are using “extreme caution.” A protocol has been sent to the president, including a two-tier screening system, he said.
“This is something that is going to visit our shores, no matter what we do,” the governor said.