With COVID cases spiking every day, government officials advised those who suspect they are infected but have no symptoms to stay home and not flood the emergency rooms and testing sites. With symptoms, people should wait two to five days before getting tested.
Gov. Albert Bryan, Jr. also announced Tuesday during the weekly Government House press briefing that all public school students will attend classes virtually beginning Jan. 10, and in-person schooling has been postponed until Jan. 24. School personnel will report to work on Jan. 7, and government offices should resume regular hours on Jan. 10.
“We want to make sure we have as safe a learning environment as possible also for our teachers and administrators. I agree with everyone that the classroom is the best setting for learning. You don’t have any argument there,” he said.
Bryan also advised Virgin Islanders to get vaccinated for themselves and to protect toddlers and infants against a rise in pediatric coronavirus cases.
As of Monday, there were 2,111 cases in the territory compared to 66 on Dec. 13. St. Croix has 998 infections, St. Thomas 1,107, and there are 92 cases on St. John. The Juan F. Luis hospital has three COVID admissions, and there are seven at Schneider Regional Medical Center with two people on ventilators.
“We are seeing higher rates of COVID among pediatric ages, including newborns, infants, and toddlers less than five years of age. This is the population that is unable to become vaccinated and are being exposed by their parents, most likely,” said Dr. Tai Hunte-Caesar, V.I. Department of Health medical director.
A baby is one of the ventilated patients at SRMC, she said.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 89 fatalities.
According to Bryan, the Health Department has been administering up to 2,000-2,300 tests a day in recent weeks and, while there are sufficient testing materials, staffing is a problem. People have reported waiting for one to two hours and going home without being tested.
“We have 40,000 tests. So there’s no shortage of tests, ” he said, adding that home test kits are expected soon from the federal government.
People with Omicron symptoms such as a sore throat, headache, fatigue, fever, and cough should get tested but should not go to the emergency rooms unless they have trouble breathing or are very weak, Bryan said. With aches and fever, victims should recover at home and quarantine for five days or until they test negative.
Hunte-Caesar concurred with the governor and said that those with symptoms should wait two to five days to get tested and then should recover at home. When they return to work, they need to wear masks. She pointed out that of all of the positive cases, only about eight percent are vaccinated/boosted. While there is a high number of cases, there is also a high number of recoveries, she said.
“You should not feel you need to go to the emergency room just because you feel sick or if you have symptoms. You should only report to the emergency room if you are having difficulty breathing or are extremely weak. If you do not have emergency symptoms, you will be discharged with the same treatment you would have at home,” she said.
Hunte-Caesar also cautioned businesses not to require employees to come to work unless they are healthy. “If employees test positive, they are mandated to stay home,” she said.
Bryan said the surge in numbers was expected – fueled by the Omicron variant – and should level off, and infections should begin to decrease in the next few weeks.
“I don’t want to speak too quickly, but it does appear we are beginning to see a slight plateau to that surge, and we hope that this trend continues,” he said.
Pop-up testing will continue on St. Croix at Charles Harwood Monday to Friday from 1:30 – 3:30 p.m. The drive-through at Schneider Medical Regional Center on St. Thomas will give tests from 1:30 – 3:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, and tests will be administered on St. John 12 – 3 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at the Port Authority gravel lot.