Dr. Esther Ellis, V.I. Territorial epidemiologist, said the territory’s COVID numbers have not fluctuated much since the middle of June, while other officials updated residents on government activities during Monday’s media briefing.
As of Monday, there were 209 active COVID infections in the Virgin Islands, Ellis said, with 125 on St. Croix, 76 on St. Thomas, and eight on St. John for a 10.6 percent positivity rate. Four people are hospitalized on St. Thomas, she said.
COVID testing continues to be available through the Health Department. On St. Croix, tests are administered from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at the Charles Harwood Memorial parking lot. St. Thomas residents can be tested from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays at the Schneider Regional Medical Center loading dock, and on St. John, tests are available from noon to 3 p.m. on Wednesdays at the Port Authority gravel lot.
Vaccinations against COVID are also administered at Charles Harwood Memorial, Schneider Regional Medical Center, and at the Port Authority gravel lot. Appointments can be made at 340-244-0016, 340-774-7477, ext. 5665, and 340-776-6400 respectively.
Ellis announced that eight of the 10 suspected monkeypox infections reported last week are negative, and two are pending. DOH is working with hospitals and physicians to coordinate future testing and treatment of the virus. More information about monkeypox can be found at the Health Department website.
Currently, Health has 895 doses of the vaccine, and some have been administered this week on St. Thomas. Soon, there will be an announcement as to when and where the vaccine will be available on St. Croix.
Ellis announced a Health Department virtual public hearing Tuesday at 4 p.m. so officials and residents can talk about the rebuilding of the WIC Nutrition Program facility on St. Thomas. To participate, click on the Zoom link: https://zoom.us/join or use the meeting ID 892 2988 3271 and the passcode 369334.
Daryl Jaschen, executive director of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, participated in the press briefing. He said there is currently a disorganized tropical wave around 2,400 miles east of the Virgin Islands. Formation over the next five days is only 20 percent. The wave is not expected to develop in the next few days, and the ocean is “smooth,” he said.
Jaschen reminded residents that hurricane watches and hurricane warning notifications will be issued in case of developing storms, and only the warning will be given when a storm accelerates quickly.
The director also advised residents to register for alerts at VITEMA.vi.gov and to listen to NOAA and local radio stations during hurricanes. Storms can change direction intensity and wind speed on short notice, creating new threats, he said.
Operation Blue Skies, a collaboration with VITEMA, V.I. Public Works, and V.I. Fire Services, will distribute sandbags until Sept. 17, Jaschen said. On Tuesdays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Thursdays, from 1 to 4 p.m., residents can pick up six sandbags at Public Works. On Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., sandbags will be available at Fire Services stations.
“Vitema reminds you again, be prepared, stay vigilant, stay informed,” Jaschen said.
Progress has been made on eliminating sargassum from the Seven Seas Osmosis plant on St. Croix over the last two weeks, Jaschen said. Output is up to 90 percent of capacity, but there are only about four days of water storage due to consumption. Agencies, including the V.I. Water and Power Authority, VITEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and V.I. Waste Management, continue to meet to assess the problem, he said.
Human Services Commissioner Kimberly Causey-Gomez announced the rollout of the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT), an electronic card for schoolchildren. It is a federal program through the U.S. Agriculture Department, and this is the fifth time the program was approved for the Virgin Islands since the pandemic began.
Schools — public and private — participating in the National School Lunch Program will receive the federal benefit through the U.S. Agriculture Department. Home-schooled students are not eligible. Cards will be mailed to each student.
“As a result of the FNS (Food and Nutrition Service) approval, DHS will begin issuing P-EBT benefits today to eligible schoolchildren effective Aug. 22. P-EBT is a benefit that provides assistance via an electronic benefits card that can be used in participating grocery stores and convenience stores for food items,” she said.
Students could receive as much as $140.76 a month or $8.28 a day to purchase food. For more information, call 340-772-7120.
Causey-Gomez said more than 12,500 students will receive cards this week, totaling almost $6.5 million. When the P-EBT plan for summer 2022 is approved, the commissioner will notify the public.
Communications Director Richard Motta listed several activities hosted by government agencies, including a career expo from noon to 6 p.m. on Aug. 25 at the University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center on St. Thomas and on Aug. 31 from noon to 6 p.m. at the UVI Great Hall on St. Croix. Information about employment openings at government agencies will be highlighted by Human Resources personnel. Interviews and applications will be available at the event.
Motta also announced that the Emergency Rental Assistance Program is continuing with events hosted by the V.I. Housing Finance Authority for renters and landlords. The St. Thomas/St. John program will be from 3-5 p.m. on Aug. 23 and Aug 30 at Cost U Less. There will also be events on Aug. 24 and Aug. 31 at Tutu Park Mall and on Aug. 25 at Pueblo Supermarket, Long Bay — all from noon to 2 p.m.
On St. Croix, the rental assistance program events will be Aug. 23 and Aug. 30 at Cost U Less; Aug. 24 and Aug. 31 at Home Depot; and Pueblo, Golden Rock Aug. 25. All will be held from noon to 2 p.m. For more information, call 340-220-0007. or visit vihfa.gov/erap.
Another government program, Our Best Life fitness program for seniors, will begin on Aug. 23 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on all three islands. St. Croix seniors can participate at the Altona Lagoon, St. Thomas residents at Emancipation Garden, and St. John residents at the Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation fitness center. Motta said everyone should bring a towel. The program ends Sept. 30.