Speaking Monday at his weekly news conference, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. looked back on two days that included rising COVID-19 numbers, two power outages and a pair of nearby natural disasters as “a roller coaster of a weekend.”
“A major earthquake in Haiti, two district-wide blackouts, enforcement challenges with COVID-19 and mandates, personnel shortages at our hospitals, COVID-19 over 400 cases, COVID-19 crisis in our correctional facilities and Tropical Storm Grace,” he said.
Haiti was struck Saturday by an earthquake registering 7.2 on the Richter scale, with a death toll over 1,000 and climbing, with at least another 5,000 injured. The impoverished country was then hit by Tropical Storm Grace, which had brushed by the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Sunday without doing significant damage. But even with the near-miss from the storm, the islands of St. Thomas and St. John were twice hit by electrical service interruptions caused by a combination of generator failures and a subsequent shortfall of generating capacity at the Randolph Harley Power Plant on St. Thomas.
But with all that, the COVID-19 surge continued to take center stage at the Government House news conference.
Assistant Health Commissioner Dr. Nicole Syms, filling in for Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion, reported that as of Monday, there were 370 active cases of COVID-19 in the territory – 122 on St. Croix, 238 on St. Thomas and 10 on St. John, and the territory’s positivity rate had risen to 5.39 percent. There were currently 39 patients hospitalized – 17 at the Juan F. Luis Hospital on St. Croix, with four of them on ventilators, and 22 patients at the Schneider Regional Medical Center on St. Thomas, with five patients ventilated.
As of Monday, there had been 41 deaths from COVID-19 in the territory, she said.
“The data that I have just read is the highest that we have seen, our hospitals are full, our staff is burnt out, we are mourning. Some of us personally, some of us professionally. We do not know how else to ask but I am asking and I’m begging that you please do your research. Understand the importance of vaccination, understand for yourself,” Syms said.
Syms urged those who are being tested for the disease or suspect they have been infected by it to stay away from other people.
“While you are being tested or waiting for results from testing, we are asking that you do not traverse the streets. Help us to reduce transmission, illness, hospitalization or death,” she said.
Syms noted that Monday marked a year of loss in her own COVID-19 experience.
“I realized just a while ago that today is a year to the date that I sat here in a press conference and mentioned that my niece had been buried because I lost her to COVID-19. Since then, I have lost 5 additional persons. I do not know how these dates have synched, but I find myself here again appealing to you, and almost begging you, to take this seriously.”
To report a suspected case of COVID-19, call 340-712-6299 on St. Croix or 340-776-1519 on St. Thomas or St. John.
A listing of testing sites or a place to pre-register for pop-up testing is online at the Department of Health’s website, covid19usvi.com/testing.
The hotline is available from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Children age 12 years and older must be accompanied by a parent or guardian, who should also bring the child’s birth certificate.
Bryan also clarified a remark he made a week earlier at the Aug. 9 news conference about the $250 vaccine incentive for receiving the vaccine. The governor said that anyone who takes both shots or their second shot between the time period of Aug. 9 to October will qualify for the incentive.
Vaccine Lottery Winners
V.I. Lottery’s Deputy Director Dwayne Benjamin announced the winners of the most recent drawing for the Vaccine Lottery. Ione Noel from the St. Croix District won $100,000 and Barbara Ortega from the St. Thomas/St. John District won $50,000 for taking only one COVID-19 shot.
The winners of the school-based drawing also were announced. In first place for the St. Croix District, Joseph Auguste from the St. Croix Educational Complex High School won $25,000. Henry Awika from the University of the Virgin Islands won $10,000 in second place, and Minerva Delauney from the St. Croix Central High School took third and won $5,000.
In the St. Thomas/St. John District, Vernon Callwood from the Charlotte Amalie High School won $25,000. Eric Christian from the University of the Virgin Islands took second and won $10,000, and Eugene Farrell from St. Peter and Paul High School won $5,000 in third place.
Bryan announced another drawing, this one for health care workers, with winners to be announced Oct. 12 at the weekly news briefing. Healthcare workers can register at www.VaxtoWinUSVI.com, call 340-777-VACS (8227) or register in person at community vaccination centers.
8 percent Back to the Government Employees
Nine years after government employees’ paychecks were cut 8 percent to help the V.I. government make its budget in the post-Hovensa economy, Bryan announced Monday that those will see the 8 percent returned in the next fiscal year.
“Today is a very good day in the Virgin Islands,” Bryan said. “Signed into law the legislation to repay the 8 percent cut taken away from government employees in 2011. As a result of our administration’s efforts the government of the Virgin Islands can make good on this and other long-standing obligations and realize additional revenue without having to add fees or raise taxes.”
Bryan also thanked the Senate majority for working with him to make it happen.
“Just today I had Senate Vice President Novelle Francis Jr. and Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory for a signing of that bill,” Bryan said. “This is what happens when we work together. The next tackle is the GERS.”
Free COVID Testing Sites
St. Croix – Tuesday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Charles Harwood Complex.
St. Thomas – Tuesday from noon to 2 p.m. at the Home Depot Parking Lot.
St. John – Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the V.I. Port Authority Gravel Yard.
The governor’s news conference can be viewed here.