CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Senators in Tuesday’s legislative session shared condolences for Senator Milton Potter’s brother, who recently died of COVID-19, and Senator-at-Large Steven Payne detailed the effects he’s still feeling five months after contracting the virus.
Potter was excused from the session following the death of his brother, Vivian Edwardson Potter, better known as “Ed.”
“If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you know exactly how it feels. The sudden passing of my brother Ed has been very difficult for the Potter family,” Potter wrote in a letter to Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory. “I thank you for all your kind words, prayers, and support during this difficult time.”
His colleagues took turns expressing condolences, as first reported in the Daily News.
“I stand here definitely feeling the blow of the sudden passing of our colleague’s brother due to the COVID pandemic,” said Senator Carla Joseph.
“Today’s a somber day for us here in the chambers,” Frett-Gregory said.
Senator Janelle Sarauw was also excused from Tuesday’s session due to a previously scheduled engagement. Her colleagues said she was assisting her mother with a medical issue and wished her well.
Sarauw shared in a social media post Sunday that her mother contracted COVID and recovered several months prior to Tuesday’s unrelated procedure, and she urged all eligible Virgin Islanders to get vaccinated.
“I’ve seen first-hand the effects of COVID as it invaded my home. Our community is at its tipping point. Let’s act responsibly, listen to the healthcare professionals and not foolishly operate in a manner that puts the vulnerable or self at risk,” Sarauw wrote.
Frett-Gregory said senators were unable to get test results from the Health Department Tuesday, but “we were able to conduct our own self-testing here in the Legislature,” and all senators and staff tested negative.
Senator Dwayne DeGraff thanked her for the precautions.
“I could remember when I walked in here in March of 2020 like a spaceman with a mask and gloves on, I was laughed at. But again, that’s how serious I took it back then, and I continue to take it serious now, and I’m happy to see that as an institution, we put things in place to safeguard the lives of our employees, our friends, our neighbors,” DeGraff said.
Senator Franklin Johnson said he has several family members currently suffering from COVID, including his uncle.
Senator Marvin Blyden said he’s vaccinated and acknowledged that “it’s a struggle between those who want to get vaccinated and those who do not want to get vaccinated, in many families – including my own.”
He also acknowledged that “many folks believe in the bush. Which, it works many times, but at the same time it cannot prevent against the deadly disease. And it’s a struggle and we continue to pray and support each other and do the right thing by each other.”
Senator Novelle Francis said he’s been vaccinated and urged others to do the same.
“Don’t continue to endanger my life by not taking the vaccine and coming in here and exposing me and my colleagues. Seriously consider protecting me and this community. The life you save might very well be your own,” Francis said.
It wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday whether all senators have been vaccinated.
Payne gave a heartfelt testimony about his own brush with death, and urged others to learn from his mistake not to get vaccinated.
“Before March 8, 2021, I was a strong advocate against being vaccinated,” Payne said. He was healthy and figured the virus would only last two weeks, so, “if I was to contract corona, I’d be fine.”
Five months later, “we’re now in August. I don’t have the strength that I had before March 8. I don’t have the endurance that I had before March 8. I almost died because of corona,” Payne said. “I used to go snorkeling three and four times a week because I loved the underwater, the undersea life. Can’t snorkel anymore. I used to run up the steps. Now I take each step one at a time to make it up and down.”
He added that between the exhaustion and ongoing joint pain, “I haven’t been the same. I gambled with corona, and still feeling the effects. I’m going back to the doctor at the end of this month to see how damaged my lungs were because of corona,” Payne said.
The St. John senator said he’s been gradually convincing loved ones to get vaccinated, and “I know it’s a matter of choice, but I’m asking everyone who can see or hear me today, please, please, please go and visit your healthcare provider and decide which vaccine is right for you and get vaccinated.”
“It might change your life if you don’t, you might even lose your life. I don’t want y’all to experience what I experienced,” he said. “So please, take it from a knucklehead, take it from a hardhead and get yourself vaccinated. If not for you, for your loved ones.”
By SUZANNE CARLSON/The Virgin Islands Daily News