With flu season around the corner, the Department of Health has published its influenza vaccine schedule, which Commissioner Justa Encarnacion said Monday could also help residents better fight other viruses, including the coronavirus.
Speaking at this week’s V.I. government news briefing, Encarnacion said the vaccine is strongly encouraged for children six months and older, along with adults. The schedule is available at doh.vi.gov, and the vaccine is also available at private health clinics throughout the territory. Encarnacion said that because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases on the mainland, the department has also advised against any non-essential travel, which increases exposure to the virus.
Those who do travel still have to follow public health and testing guidelines when returning to the territory, she said, and anyone unable to take a COVID test beforehand will have to do so three to five days after they’ve landed and will have to quarantine until they’ve been notified of a negative result.
Meanwhile, the safest way to avoid contracting the virus is by practicing safe social distancing, mask-wearing and proper hygiene, including frequently washing hands, she said.
As of Monday’s news conference, Encarnacion said the territory is tracking 18 active COVID-19 cases, with 22,879 residents tested. Of that number, 21,517 are negative, 1,335 are positive and 1,296 have recovered. At this point, the territory has recorded 21 deaths from the disease. Encarnacion said the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital is now in its fourth week without any reported COVID-19 patients, while Schneider Regional Medical Center has three, with one on a ventilator.
Along with increasing access to testing, Encarnacion said the department has also distributed to residents 10,500 masks, 2,111 educational flyers and more than 500 bottles of hand sanitizer.
At last week’s news conference, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. announced revisions to local public health guidelines. The most immediate was allowing churches and houses of worship to accommodate 50 percent of their capacity, or a maximum of 100 people, whichever is fewer. Additionally, restaurants are no longer required to use disposable glassware and utensils, and Bryan said that most have already been cleared for proper sanitization equipment and protocols.
Effective Nov. 9, mass gathering restrictions will move from 50 to 100 people for indoor and outdoor activities, or 50 percent of the capacity of the venue, whichever is fewer. Bars that can accommodate sit-down service can also reopen on Nov. 9, but those that cannot will have to remain closed, along with nightclubs. The last call for alcoholic beverages will remain at 11 p.m., while live music or DJ’s will be permitted until midnight.