The V.I Department of Health warned Saturday that the Delta variant of COVID-19 – a mutation of SARS-CoV-2 virus that is considered by health officials to be both more contagious than the original coronavirus and more lethal – may have been identified in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In a news release issued late Saturday, the department said that it has been working with Yale University to test samples from positive COVID-19 cases. Thus far, 84 samples have shown to be variants from sequencing. Of the 84 cases, 65 have been of the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7) which is also known as “the UK Variant.” Six samples have been B.1.526.2 (Iota) or B.1.351 (Beta), and one sample B.1.429 (Epsilon).
But an additional 12 samples have not been confirmed to be any of the variants that have been previously identified in the U.S. Virgin Islands and may be the Delta variant, the Health Department said.
The department has previously reported on the Alpha variant which is estimated to be 40 to 80 percent more transmissible than the wild-type original strain of SARS-CoV-2. The Delta variant is a SARS-CoV-2 mutation that originally surfaced in India in December 2020 and is highly contagious. It swept rapidly throughout that region and throughout Great Britain as well. The first Delta case in the United States was confirmed in March and it is now the dominant strain in the U.S. It has been positively identified in Puerto Rico.
Health officials remain vigilant as they work to get more Virgin Islanders vaccinated, the news release said.
“With more unvaccinated people in the territory, this will allow the virus to further mutate into more transmissible and deadlier variants,” the department warned. “This is a worry for our small islands. But thankfully, the COVID-19 vaccine is very accessible.”
Anyone who is unvaccinated is more at risk of getting COVID-19, the news release said.
“The hesitancy or unwillingness to get vaccinated also harms our efforts to achieve community immunity and prevent the emergence of new variants that may be resistant to the vaccine,” according to the statement. “Currently, 48.1 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. For us to achieve community immunity, we need 70% of the population to be fully vaccinated.” According to Dr. Tai Hunte-Ceasar of the Health Department, “Those who remain unvaccinated continue to drive the pandemic and promote the introduction of more harmful variants that risk the safety of all regardless of vaccination status.”
Anyone 12 and older can get the COVID-19 vaccine by walking into any of Health community vaccination centers, by calling 340-777-8227 or by scheduling online at covid19usvi.com/vaccines.
The Department of Health said the COVID-19 vaccine “has proven to save lives.” As more people in the community get vaccinated, the chance decreases that fast-spreading mutations can affect the territory.
The department’s epidemiology hotline – 340-712-6299 or 340-776-1519 – remains open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week for callers to report suspected cases of COVID-19. The department also offers free vaccines at pop-up testing sites.
Anyone can pre-register for pop-up testing online at covid19usvi.com/testing.
The following are the department’s upcoming events:
St. Croix: from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Tuesday, July 20, at the Charles Harwood Complex.
St. Croix: from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Thursday, July 22, at the Charles Harwood Complex.
St. Thomas: from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, July 20, at Home Depot.
St. Thomas: from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, July 22, at the Fort Christian parking lot.
St. John: from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, July 21, at the VIPA gravel yard.
Best practices such as hand washing, mask-wearing, and social distancing are still effective in preventing COVID-19, the news release said.