The territory and its health care systems are likely to be strained in the first weeks of May, making it all the more important for Virgin Islanders to slow the spread of COVID-19 through social distancing and isolation, according to Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion.
“April 24 to May 14 is expected to be our most challenging time,” Encarnacion said at a news conference Friday.
“We expect our highest number of hospitalizations to be over 100 and we are prepared for that number in the territory,” she said.
The way the contagion is spreading in other parts of the world, and the U.S. as a whole, suggests 100 cases may be a relatively optimistic number. Barring a sharp drop in the rate of infection, the arithmetic suggests the number of Virgin Islanders who might need hospitalization could be several hundred or higher.
“We are preparing for that scenario within the territory,” Encarnacion said. “We are working with the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency and our federal partners to secure increased staffing and medical equipment and supplies, to include 50 more ventilators,” Encarnacion said.
Encarnacion said the rate of infection was modeled at “R-naught,” or R0 2.4, but reduced to R0 1.3 “as a result of the shelter in place order by Gov. Bryan.” The “R0” is a measure of how many people each infected person will subsequently spread the infection to. The lower the number, the better. If the number is less than one, the contagion will eventually die out. If it is larger than one, it may spread. Measles has an R0 of 12 to 18, while seasonal influenza has an R0 of 0.9 to 2.1.