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BVI Confronts COVID-19 Spike That Leaves Tiny UK Territory With 1,147 Cases

TORTOLA — British Virgin Islands citizens are dealing with a COVID-19 spike brought on by the delta variant that has left leave the UK territory reeling with 1,147 cases.

Governor Albert Bryan Jr. and Lt. Governor Tregenza Roach told residents of the BVI Monday that their “thoughts and prayers” are with them.

“I want to extend thoughts and prayers to our brothers and sisters in the British Virgin Islands on behalf of Governor Bryan and Lt. Governor Roach as they deal with a harrowing surge of COVID-19 infections,” Director Motta said. “Governor Bryan has been in contact with Premier Fahie and is looking at how the U.S. Virgin Islands can be of aid and assistance to them during this time.”

People on social media said people who live in Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, Jost Van Dyke are uniquely susceptible to coronavirus. As of 2019, the British Virgin Islands had a population of 30,030.

“A lot of the wealthy people have homes in Great Britain and the BVI. I believe the current outbreak is going to be a lot worse for the folks on island because there is no natural immunity in the population,” Michelle Forlife said on Facebook. “The Government did such a great job of shutting the islands down that they had less than 200 cases up until the end of June now they are at over 1,000.”

Meanwhile, a British Virgin Islands citizen became the second COVID-related death in the territory Thursday, as cases continue to spiral out of control.

The deceased was identified as 32-year-old Jamal Barronville. He is said to be the first BVI native, but only the second person in the territory to die from the virus, contradicting an announcement made last week relative to a second death by Health Minister Carvin Malone.

Confirmation of Barronville’s death came via an online post by Alvera Maduro-Caines, the Sixth District representative.

“At a time when our hearts can take no more bad news, when it seems like the territory’s tempest tossed, we’re faced with the saddest realization that we’ve lost a soldier, a special Z6NE soldier, Jamal Barronville,” Maduro-Caines wrote.

“For days we prayed for your recovery when we heard of your illness. Today, we are forced to come to terms with losing a young man who meant so much to many.”

Active cases, which have been skyrocketing since July 1, are now up to 821, and officials took the dire step Thursday of setting up a field hospital for potential patient overflow from the territory’s sole hospital.

Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ronald Georges said currently there are eight persons hospitalized. Two of the patients are in the Intensive Care Unit and six are in the Special Care Unit. It wasn’t immediately clear the number of available beds at Orlando Smith Hospital.

“Given the large number of cases and positive contacts, the Virgin Islands can be assumed to be experiencing community spread of COVID-19 at this time,” Georges said. In a statement earlier this week, Georges noted that 60 members of the BVI Health Services Authority, which oversees the hospital, had tested positive. He did not clarify whether any were direct care providers.

On Thursday, employees of the Health Services Authority were seen setting up six tents at the Multipurpose Sports Complex in Road Town in response to the surge in cases.

“The move is to ensure that the BVIHSA is equipped and ready to effectively respond, should a significant number of persons exhibit COVID-19 symptoms and require hospitalization,” BVIHSA Chief Executive Officer Cedorene Malone-Smith said in a statement. “This will be available for persons who require medical intervention, but do not necessarily have a need for acute medical care.”

The field hospital will initially be equipped to accommodate 25 persons, she said, but “has the ability to increase in bed capacity should the need arise.”

It will be manned by a BIVHSA clinical care team “as well as members of the medical cohort from Cuba, who were invited to the territory last year to provide COVID-19 response support,” Malone-Smith said.

BVI officials have been struggling since the start of the month to stop the spread of cases, which ballooned to 821 in just over a week. Of that total, officials say they found 548 individuals via contact tracing. In all, the territory has recorded a total of 1,147 cases since the pandemic began last year.

That number could increase as contact tracing testing, which was held Thursday on Tortola, is scheduled to continue from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today on Virgin Gorda at the Nurse Iris O’Neal Clinic.

Other than making announcements via online posts and radio shows, BVI officials have not held regular press briefings about the skyrocketing cases, leading to confusion. On Thursday, Malone walked back a July 2 announcement about the death of a woman he attributed to COVID, saying it was too soon to know the exact cause of death.

“I’ve been sadly advised of the passing of one of our golden gems who was among the positives. This brings to two the number of deaths reported from the deadly virus,” Malone told residents via radio last week while expressing sympathy on behalf of the people and the BVI government.

He said Thursday, however, that his announcement on the radio show was made prematurely, and that officials are still awaiting an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death.

Last year, at the height of the pandemic, BVI officials took extreme measures to include closing the territory’s borders to incoming and outgoing travelers to stop the spread of the virus, and did not fully reopen until December.

Since July 1, at least two government offices and a pre-school were closed temporarily after individuals there tested positive.

While BVI officials have identified the individuals who tested positive at the pre-school as “pediatric cases,” they have not shared the ages of the children or provided further updates on their condition.

The cases began to unfold after Health officials began actively seeking persons who may have come in contact with a positive COVID-19 case, and who had frequented four establishments — Club Aqua, Club Crystals, Dueces and Island Sizzle — between June 18-20.

As of Tuesday, the BVI imposed a nighttime curfew, shuttering the territory at 11 p.m. for 14 days to help stymie the virus’ spread. Officials also announced that gatherings are restricted and closed entertainment establishments and beauty salons.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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