Maintaining the same cautious tone he has had in press conferences over the past two months, Gov. Albert Bryan, Jr. spoke Friday about the need to remain vigilant as the territory looks to plan a phased reopening now that local COVID-19 numbers appear stable.
It has been 80 days since local officials began rolling out response efforts and, since then, 731 individuals have been tested, with 642 cases coming back negative, 54 positive and 35 pending. Three deaths have been recorded, but as of this week there are no COVID-19 positive patients in either of the territory’s two hospitals, and only one active case being tracked, he said.
“This is welcome news but still not a super cause for celebration as we are still in the midst of the fight,” Bryan said. “We’ve done a really good job, all of us, but as we continue to say, we don’t know like we do in a hurricane whether we’re in the eye, the center, the front or the back of the storm. We must remain vigilant.”
Meanwhile, there is still a ban on gatherings of over 10 people, and even then residents should practice safe social distancing, the governor said.
Bryan also spoke about the financial impact the virus has wrought, saying that many businesses closed their doors as social distancing and other emergency measures were implemented. In response, the Labor Department has issued 1,390 unemployment checks, totaling close to $1 million for affected residents.
With other states and territories contemplating how to reopen and address some of the economic impact, Bryan said the U.S. Virgin Islands will still be “taking it slow” by easing restrictions internally before opening up “our doors to the rest of the world.” Putting in place measures – such as monitors, cameras, heat testing and test kits – to control the risk from visitors coming in are some important first steps, and Bryan said an announcement will be made Monday about what any kind of reopening will look like as the territory pushes closer to the April 30 stay-at-home deadline.
“We know it’s going to be scary but we have to trust that the same professionals who have gotten us through so far will get us through to the next phase,” the governor said. Bryan has said at previous press conferences that the territory has to be able to mass test before a larger reopening is contemplated.
Negotiations are also ongoing with larger health organizations such as Doctors Without Borders and the Islamic Medical Association to provide reinforcements – including nurses and respiratory and infectious disease specialists – for those who have been battling the virus within local hospitals and clinics, he said.
Heading into the weekend, Bryan also announced that the Department of Planning and Natural Resources has cleared all 31 public beaches tested for water quality.