SUNNY ISLE — The Health Department confirmed this weekend that a 67-year-old St. Croix woman is the latest victim of COVID-19 in the territory, bringing the death toll to 37 since the pandemic began.
The seven-day test positivity rate is nearly five percent after another 60 people tested positive on St. Thomas, with 31 on St. Croix and one on St. John.
Government employees are among those testing positive for the virus, despite the availability of free, easily accessible vaccines.
The Human Services Department is among the agencies that have had repeated office closures and service interruptions because of infections among staff.
“This resurgence of COVID-19 makes it clear that as a community, we must take personal responsibility for doing all that we can to not only keep ourselves and family safe, but our co-workers, classmates and community at large. Vaccinations are the best shot at stemming the tide of this pandemic,” Michelle Francis, a spokesperson with Human Services, said in a prepared statement.
“The economic cost of GVI office closure weekly is not sustainable. The cost is also felt by those who require our services and have to adjust with us each time we close. The conversation about vaccination is an important one that the USVI must have holistically and with the guidance of our local health experts,” she said.
As infections spread, Francis said employees must take precautions seriously.
“As the sharing of personal health information is voluntary, we have no solid, reportable number on the percentage of people vaccinated within DHS. However, please note that the Department of Human Services is in lockstep with the Bryan/Roach Administration, Department of Health and the CDC in strongly urging all staff who can, to get vaccinated,” Francis said.
Puerto Rico recently joined the growing number of states and the federal government that will require public employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, or routine testing.
In response to questions, Government House spokesman Richard Motta Jr. said that Governor Albert Bryan not currently considering ordering a similar requirement for Virgin Islands government employees.
“Gov. Bryan is still strongly urging Virgin Islanders and government employees to get vaccinated and to follow the health guidance. But the governor will do whatever it takes, within the confines of the law, to protect the health and well being of the Virgin Islands public,” Motta said.
Bureau of Corrections spokesman Kyza Callwood said Friday that “medical staff have tested all 133 inmates/detainees at the John Bell Adult Correctional Facility,” also known as Golden Grove prison on St. Croix.
There are currently five positive cases and no hospitalizations, Callwood said.
He noted the agency’s medical staff have been conducting mass testing for employees and that as of Friday, “we have no reported positive cases.”
The agency also is in the process of finalizing a routine testing protocol for employees that will go into effect Monday.
“The risk of a COVID-19 outbreak or resurgence at a prison or jail increases whenever there is a wide community spread of COVID-19 coupled with the movement of staff and prisoners in and out of a facility,” Callwood said. “The Bureau has taken concrete steps to minimize the COVID-19 risk at its facilities in accordance with CDC guidelines.”
The bureau has not said if the source of the outbreak has been identified.
The vaccine is not yet available to children under 12, and some people cannot be vaccinated for health reasons.
Bryan has repeatedly urged those eligible for the vaccine to get their shots immediately, as the highly infectious and potentially fatal delta variant tears through communities around the world.
But with the vaccination rate hovering below 50 percent, the territory has a long way to go before herd immunity is on the event horizon.