Sen. Marvin Blyden issued an apology late Monday for flouting V.I. Health Department quarantine rules to attend a gathering on St. Thomas Saturday despite testing positive for COVID-19 just four days earlier, calling it a “terrible lapse of judgment” and blaming his “workaholic” tendencies and “pandemic fatigue.”
Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory said in a news release Monday night that after consulting with Senate Vice President Novelle Francis Jr. and Secretary Genevieve Whitaker, a Committee on Ethical Conduct will be convened by week’s end to investigate Blyden’s actions and make a final determination.
“This matter is extremely serious in nature, and we have to ensure the public that we take the coronavirus pandemic seriously. We cannot hold Senators to different standards, if anything, Senators must be held to a higher standard, as we represent the people of the territory,” said Frett-Gregory.
Blyden, who is fully vaccinated, tested positive for COVID-19 twice on Tuesday – first at the V.I. Legislature and then later that day at the Health Department. He said he subsequently took three at-home rapid tests that showed negative results on Sept. 16, 17 and 18, though one of those tests inexplicably had “an erroneous date” of July 16 instead of Sept. 16.
“Based on those results, I realized that either there had been some false positives on Tuesday, or that I had been an asymptomatic person who had already gone through the course of the disease and was in the very last days of the virus when I was tested on Tuesday,” said Blyden, who under Health Department guidance should have quarantined for 10 days from the date of his positive test results.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I am a workaholic, and that I simply don’t do well sitting down idle at home,” said Blyden, who further blamed his lapse in judgment on his concern for the economic well-being of the territory.
“I had a meeting scheduled for Saturday night with some potential investors who had already flown down for the meeting, and I let my desire for economic development opportunities for our people overcome my better judgment and common sense,” said Blyden, who provided no further details about the meeting, which reportedly included attending a gathering of about 70 people at Tillett Gardens on St. Thomas.
“Regardless of what I believed or even knew, I should have followed the guidelines set by the Department of Health and the CDC. Plain and simple, regardless of my intentions, my actions were wrong. I am deeply sorry, and I humbly apologize to the people of the Virgin Islands,” Blyden wrote.
Blyden’s actions did not sit well with Virgin Islanders watching the weekly Government House press conference Monday on Facebook Live, where reporters asked what penalties Blyden might face, and the governor’s Communications Director Richard Motta said the law governing communicable diseases is vague and needs revising by the Legislature for it to have any teeth.
That prompted Sen. Javan James to weigh in. “Stop blaming the Legislature. The law is clear,” James wrote in the comments section on Facebook, quoting V.I. Code about exposure in a public place while infected with a contagious disease.
“Whoever willfully exposes himself or another afflicted with any contagious or infectious disease in any public place or thoroughfare, except in his necessary removal in a manner the least dangerous to the public health, shall be fined not more than $200 or imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both,” James wrote.
On Tuesday, James introduced legislation to the Senate’s legal counsel to strengthen the V.I. Code by establishing a new minimum fine of $200 and a maximum fine of $5,000 for violations concerning infectious diseases.
“The Bill will further mandate that the Department of Health promulgate rules and regulations to carry out this section of the code to reassure that there are no future misinterpretations of the law during this ongoing pandemic, and to mandate that anyone found guilty of such an act shall be placed in mandatory quarantine and/or electronic monitoring based on the recommendations of the Department of Health,” James wrote in a press release.
James also is calling on the governor, his cabinet members, and other heads of government to establish a temporary health center in each district specifically for addressing COVID-19 through the use of federal and/or local funds.
“There must be a clear path moving forward to hire the necessary personnel to run such a facility. At some point, we will have to face the reality of opening the economy, but to get there sooner it will be beneficial for us to get the additional staff and health centers in place,” said James.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include information about Sen. Javan James’ legislation to stiffen penalties for infractions of infectious disease protocols.