Due to the ongoing health crisis, the Senate voted to extend the territory’s state of emergency order 60 more days during session Tuesday, renewing Gov. Albert Bryan’s March 13 declaration. A recent law enacted after controversy over Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s repeated post-hurricane extensions requires legislative approval for continuing extensions of states of emergency in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“As a community, it makes no sense in any way for us to try to stop or block the renewing of the state of emergency. Unlike in times past, where there was a sense of abuse with the constant renewals,” Sen. Athneil Thomas said during Tuesday’s session.
Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion said it was critical for the territory to maintain an active state of emergency status because government deployed emergency authorities were still essential and without the status, access to federal assistance would be diminished.
“There are still many things we do not know about COVID-19. However, we do know that it will be with us for a while,” Encarnacion said.
According to the Department of Health’s figures, as of Oct. 6, 20,273 people had been tested, of whom 20,155 have been negative, while 1,321 have been diagnosed as positive. The territory has seen 20 COVID-19 fatalities, but during the last month, but the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests has been below five percent and there are 15 active cases in the territory.
Encarnacion’s testimony highlighted more than 15 changes the Health Department made an effort to reduce the spread of the disease. Some of these changes included the implementation of “pop-up” testing sites, expanded testing in vulnerable populations, work with federal partners to develop a vaccine, and the drafting of a public vaccination plan.
“We have done a lot. However, the pandemic is evolving, rapidly moving and relatively unknown,” Encarnacion said.
Month by month the pandemic is changing, shaping, and forming the way we are moving forward not only in the territory, but across the globe Thomas said.
“We have to ensure that all our first responders and everyone on the front lines dealing with this pandemic is able to continue to receive funding necessary for all the P.P.E.’s, for all the continued education, for all the updating of the equipment. Because without the ability to continue to fund, to continue to claim the state of emergency, we will lose out on very valuable funding,” Thomas said.
Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency Director Daryl Jaschen agreed with the Health Department and senator’s stance and added that the additional time was needed to be sure measures are carried out to protect the safety of the territory’s border.
“We anticipate a wave of new cases based on the trends, and we must be prepared to address the wave accordingly. The anticipated increased activity at the seaports and airports in the coming months will reintroduce the U.S.V.I. population to COVID-19,” Jaschen said. “In order to balance the need to secure the health of our community and balance the need to be financially solvent, we must continue our progress toward opening our doors and need the resources to safely do so.”
All senators were present for the hearing and voted to forward the measure where it awaits the Governor’s signature to be made law.