An article published in the New York Times on Tuesday headlined “New Virus Hot Spots: U.S. Islands from Hawaii to Puerto Rico,” comes down hard on the territory, in particular, relative the number of cases in the last week.
“The territory saw its cases surge to 224 per 100,000 residents over the past seven days, the highest per capita increase of any state or territory,” the Times article said.
It was an earlier surge that brought the decision to issue a new “stay at home order” on Aug. 18. Despite all non-essential businesses being closed for the second time since March, testing has continued to show a marked increase in positive results.
The Times wrote, “The U.S. Virgin Islands, which registered almost no cases in the early days of the pandemic, is now approaching 1,000 total cases, pushing its per capita infection numbers higher than those of several states.” (Editor’s note: The number went over 1,000 total positive test results in data announced Tuesday by the V.I. Department of Health.)
The article by Times writers Simon Romero and Patricia Mazzei quote V.I. Epidemiologist Dr. Esther Ellis saying officials were reacting quickly to the increased outbreaks, requiring temperature checks at the territory’s airports and conducting aggressive testing with a 24-hour turnaround.
“But the situation in the U.S. Virgin Islands shows how quickly things can change,” the Times wrote. “The territory, which avoided the large outbreaks that were hitting parts of the mainland early in the pandemic, had reopened for leisure visitors on June 1 after an early lockdown – then had to hit the brakes.”
The Times said despite relative low infections early on, the surge in islands such as Hawaii, Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories reveals “how the coronavirus can spike and then rapidly spread in places with relaxed restrictions, sluggish contact tracing and widespread pressure to end the economic pain that comes with lockdowns.”
Most of the increase in cases in the last month has been on St. Thomas, which is the island that has welcomed the greater share of the tourists. Prior to mid-July, most cases were on St. Croix due to travel by employees and close quarters at the Limetree Bay Refinery.
As a result, it says, “Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. announced this month that hotels and Airbnb operators would be prohibited from accepting new guests for 30 days. Mr. Bryan also ordered bars, nightclubs and cabarets to shut down until Aug. 31.”
It goes on, “The territory, which has 103,000 residents, was already trying to bounce back after being hit in 2017 with hurricanes Irma and Maria, two rare Category 5 storms. Tourism, which accounts for a third of the economy in the U.S. Virgin Islands, remains its largest source of employment.”
On Aug. 11, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and two other states implemented a mandatory 14-day quarantine on travelers from the U.S. Virgin Islands, with a $1,000 fine for anyone ignoring the order. The territory has since been added to several other states’ quarantine lists.