Categories
At VIFreep Breaking News Health News National News St. Croix News St. John News St. Thomas News Tourism News

USVI Ends COVID Restrictions For U.S. Travelers Today

CHARLOTTE AMALIE Governor Albert Bryan has issued an Executive Order removing the requirement for the U.S. Virgin Islands Travel Screening Portal for all domestic travel to and from the United States, the Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) said on Facebook.

The Executive Order takes effect on Tuesday, May 31, 2022 (today), according to VIPA.

The following exceptions apply:

1. Federal guidelines and restrictions continue to apply to all international travel, including travel from the British Virgin Islands.

2. For all commercial ferry and private water taxi vessels leaving or entering the territorial waters of the U.S. Virgin Islands which must comply with U.S. Coast Guard guidelines.

Read the full Executive Order at  https://www.vi.gov/executive-orders/

Categories
At VIFreep Breaking News Community Affairs Environmental News St. Croix News St. John News

DPNR To Celebrate Exotic Pet Amnesty Week

FREDERIKSTED — Commissioner Jean-Pierre L. Oriol of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) announces that Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) will celebrate Exotic Pet Amnesty Week from May 28 to June 4, 2022, to bring attention to the impact of invasive species on the Virgin Islands natural environment.  

Residents are invited to bring in their rare, non-native animal species from birds to snakes for a free permit without penalty, to the Division of Fish & Wildlife. The list does not include livestock such as chickens, ducks, and other farm animals which are permitted through the Department of Agriculture. 

This year’s observance will kick off at the 50th Virgin Islands Agriculture and Food Fair on St. Croix at the DPNR tent. “We’re excited to offer this opportunity at the reopening of the Ag Fair to allow residents and visitors to register their exotic animals free of charge and legally possess them in a responsible manner,” Commissioner Oriol said. “The following week, the public can visit other permitting stations on St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John,” continued Oriol. 

Permitting stations will be staffed by the DFW staff on St. Croix from May 28th to May 30th from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the DPNR tent at the Ag Fair or throughout the week at the Mars Hill office from May 31st to June 3rd from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. On St. Thomas and St. John, from June 1st to 3rd, from 4 -7 p.m. at the Coral World Parking Lot and on June 4th, from 12- 3 p.m., at the National Park Visitors Station. Pets must be brought in a secure carrier, otherwise photos should be brought instead. Live animals will be microchipped and or photographed. 

The initiative is funded through a grant from the Department of Interior. For more information, call the office at 340-773-1082 or visit www.dpnr.gov.vi/fish-and-wildlife

Categories
At VIFreep Breaking News Crime News Police News St. John News St. Thomas News V.I. Legislature

Bryan Calls For Investigation Into Sex Assault Allegations Against Steven Payne

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Governor Albert Bryan issued a statement today calling on Attorney General Denise George to open an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse made against At-Large Senator Steven Payne by a young woman who alleged that Senator Payne sexually assaulted her when she was a minor.

“The allegations against Senator Payne revealed recently in the media are serious and disturbing. Although the law presumes his innocence until proven otherwise, the nature of the accusation warrants immediate action. This isn’t the first time allegations of inappropriate sexual contact have been made against individuals in positions of authority. I have asked the Attorney General to ensure these matters are properly investigated and trust that justice will be swift. I want to encourage anyone who has been a victim of any type of improper sexual behavior, harassment, or abuse by an authority figure to come forward,” Governor Bryan said.

Categories
At VIFreep Breaking News Business News St. Croix News St. John News St. Thomas News

Human Services Pauses In-Person Senior ID Services Until June 6

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — The Virgin Islands Department of Human Services (DHS) announced the Division of Senior Citizens Affairs, Information and Referral (I&R) Senior Identification Document (ID) Program is pausing in-person services as of Tuesday, May 24, 2022. DHS will resume in-person Senior ID services on Monday, June 06, 2022, territory-wide.

The Division of Senior Citizens Affairs, to protect health and safety of our staff and senior clients during this time of increased COVID positivity rates, will accept telephone calls to schedule appointments. Seniors are especially vulnerable to the COVID virus, and we prefer to pause services for the next two weeks as a precautionary measure.

Seniors 60 years of age and older qualify to receive a Senior ID Card from the Department of Human Services. Once seniors are given scheduled appointment dates, they will need to bring with them supporting documents to verify age such as a birth certificate, passport or other government issued l valid ID and proof of residency such as a utility bill, property tax statement, or rental lease/deed. DHS
reminds senior citizens that Senior IDs are now free. In line with Governor Bryan’s Senior Citizens Health and Wellness initiative “Live Your Best Life by Aging Your Way,” the fee for the Senior I.D. has been waived, and the I.D. will be valid for a period of five (5) years.

As a reminder these services are by appointment only and for the health and safety of all, COVID prevention and safety protocols must be adhered to. Masks are required when entering the Division of Senior Citizens Affairs and will only be allowed to be removed when taking pictures for the Senior IDs.

Commissioner Kimberley Causey-Gomez encourages all who are eligible for a Senior ID card to make an appointment as the DHS Senior ID cards can be used to obtain valuable discounts in grocery stores, pharmacies, Bureau of Motor Vehicles, the Lt. Governor’s Property Tax Office, and several other locations throughout the territory.

For more information about the Senior ID Program or to schedule an appointment, please contact the Department of Human Services at the following phone numbers:
• St. Croix – (340) 772-7148 – Division of Senior Citizens Affairs, 1401 Mars Hill Frederiksted, St. Croix
• St. Thomas (340) 774-0930 ex.t 4018 – Division of Senior Citizens Affairs, 1303 Hospital Ground, STE 1 St. Thomas
• St. John (340) 776-6334 – St. John DHS Multipurpose Center, Cruz Bay, St. John
For general information, please visit the Department of Human Services website, www.dhs.gov.vi or on Facebook
(https://www.facebook.com/usvidhs).
The Department of Human Services (VIDHS) exists to provide social services to members in our community with diverse needs.
In times of national uncertainty and hardship we act as a safety-net and exist to inspire hope and empower change through nonjudgmental, quality delivery of needed services and resources. Please visit the Department of Human Services website,
www.dhs.gov.vi for more information

Categories
At VIFreep Breaking News Consumer News Health News National News Puerto Rico News St. Croix News St. John News St. Thomas News

Jif Peanut Butter Under Recall For Potential Salmonella Contamination

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are investigating an outbreak of salmonella infections that is possibly linked to Jif peanut butter products.

The J.M. Smucker Company issued a voluntary recall for its creamy, crunchy, natural and reduced fat peanut butter products that were distributed nationwide, with lot code numbers 1274425 to 2140425, the FDA announced this weekend.

Currently, 14 people have reported illnesses and two of those cases have resulted in hospitalizations, according to data provided by the CDC.

“Five out of five people reported consuming peanut butter and four of the five people specifically reported consuming different varieties of Jif brand peanut butter prior to becoming ill,” the FDA said.

What is salmonella?

Salmonella itself is a bacteria, but the illness it causes is known as salmonellosis.

For many infected people, symptoms appear 12 to 72 hours after contact and often include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, according to the FDA. Most people who are infected recover within four to seven days and do not need any treatment.

More serious and severe cases can occur, though, so the FDA recommends contacting your health care provider if you believe you have been infected.

Several varieties of peanut butter are being recalled nationwide

The J. M. Smucker Co. said the peanut butter it is recalling was distributed in retail stores and other outlets throughout the country. It includes creamy, crunchy and natural varieties, along with many others.

The recalled products have lot code numbers between 1274425 – 2140425 and include the numbers 425 for the 5th-7th digits. “425” in that position indicates that it was processed in the Lexington facility.

This information is usually printed on the back label of the jar. A list of recalled products and their numbers can be seen on the FDA’s website.

If you happen to have a jar included in the recall, you should throw it away immediately.

The FDA noted that the peanut butter has a two-year shelf life so consumers should check any Jif peanut butter already in their home.

After throwing the peanut butter out, the CDC recommends washing and sanitizing any surfaces or containers that might have come into contact with the peanut butter.

No word as yet from the local Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs (DLCA) as to whether the affected products were shipped to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Categories
At VIFreep Breaking News Business News Military News National News Puerto Rico News St. Croix News St. John News St. Thomas News

Social Security Collaboration: Social Security Honors Military Heroes

On Memorial Day, our nation honors military service members who have given their lives to preserve our freedoms. Families, friends, and communities come together to remember the great sacrifices of military members and ensure their legacies live on.

The benefits we provide can help the families of deceased military service members. For example, widows, widowers, surviving divorced spouses, dependent children, and dependent parents may be eligible for Social Security survivor’s benefits. You can learn more about those benefits at www.ssa.gov/survivors.

We also offer support to wounded warriors. Social Security benefits protect veterans when injuries prevent them from returning to active duty or performing other work. Both the

Department of Veteran Affairs and Social Security have disability programs. You may qualify for disability benefits through one or both programs. Read our new fact sheet, “Social Security Disability and Veterans Affairs Disability — How Do They Compare?” at www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-64-125.pdf. Depending on your situation, some members of your family, including your dependent children or spouse, may be eligible to receive Social Security benefits. Under certain rules, we may also pay benefits to divorced spouses.

Wounded military service members can receive quicker processing of their Social Security disability claims. If you are a veteran with a 100% Permanent & Total compensation rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs, we’ll expedite your disability claim. Want more information about how we can help? Visit www.ssa.gov/woundedwarriors for answers to frequently asked questions or to find information about the application process.

Thinking about retirement or know a veteran who is? Military service members can receive Social Security benefits in addition to their military retirement benefits. For details, visit our webpage for veterans, available at www.ssa.gov/people/veterans.

Please share this information with the military families you know. We honor and thank the veterans who bravely served and died for our country and the military service members who serve today.

For more information on our benefits and services, please call 1-800-772-1213, access www.socialsecurity.gov or visit your local Social Security office.

Categories
At VIFreep Breaking News Business News Government House News National News St. Croix News St. John News St. Thomas News Territorial Affairs

Bryan Wants SSI Parity, Stresses Need For Fairness With Territories In House Speech

WASHINGTON — Governor Albert Bryan, testifying virtually on Wednesday before the U.S. House’s Committee on Natural Resources, urged lawmakers to give territories parity with states for Supplemental Security Income or SSI, which provides monthly payments to meet basic needs, such as food, shelter and clothing.

According to a statement released by Government House, Bryan’s remarks came during a hearing on the Department of Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs 2023 budget, where he also outlined the Virgin Islands “ongoing and new needs” from the federal agency including EPA concerns about reopening the Limetree Bay Refinery.

During his written testimony prior to questions from the lawmakers, Governor Bryan decried last month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that denies equal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits to the territories, an issue that also was brought up during questioning by Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan).

“A disabled American who lives in a State is entitled to receive Supplemental Security Income without regard to geographic location or what taxes are paid. If she moves to the Virgin Islands, she loses that right,” the governor said during his prepared testimony.

“Territories cannot look to the Constitution of the United States for equal protection under the law in making claims for Supplemental Security Income like their countrymen residing on the mainland,” he said. “Instead, the Court has directed us to appeal to the Congress. We ask you now: Grant our citizens parity with their fellow Americans and guarantee Virgin Islanders the same access to the Supplemental Security Income benefits. We are not second-class citizens.”  

During the questioning period, Congresswoman Tlaib said it is unacceptable that 3.5 million people living in U.S. territories are subject to a separate and unequal status quo and denied access to, and the full benefit of, lifesaving federal programs like SSI and Medicaid, and she asked how the lack of parity impacts residents of the territories.

“For us it means families splitting up. A lot of time we have families that are here and the wife or the husband would move to the states with the child in order to get better care and benefit from those benefits,” Governor Bryan responded. “It would make such a huge difference in our community for parents raising children with disabilities, especially when they age-out of regular schools and they need other support systems that those parents can’t afford.”

During his testimony, Governor Bryan also touched on a number of other issues he would like to see addressed by federal lawmakers:

•         Requiring federal agencies to waive matching fund obligations for disaster relief funding. “Significant amounts of appropriated disaster funds remain inaccessible to the Territory because of unrealistic local match requirements imposed by federal agencies,” Governor Bryan said.

•         Reversing tax code stipulations subjecting territories to the so-called “GILTI” tax, which is designed to discourage American companies from stashing profits in foreign tax havens. “The U.S. Virgin Islands is neither foreign nor a tax haven: it is a U.S. Territory whose tax laws are promulgated by Congress. Treating us like a foreign country makes no sense and is contrary to decades of Congressional policies intended to encourage U.S. investment in the Territories,” Governor Bryan said.

•         Assistance with the Environmental Protection Agency concerns about reopening the Limetree Bay Refinery. “We all share the EPA’s concern with safety. But it is not clear that the EPA understands the unique importance of the refinery to the economic, financial, and social well-being of the Virgin Islands community,” Governor Bryan said.

•         Restoring adequate funding for the Territory’s highways. “That funding was cut to the bone in 2012 and has never been fully restored, with predictably deleterious effects on our roads – yet another example of Americans receiving poorer treatment simply because of where in the United States they live. Singling out the four small territories for funding cuts was unfair and ignored our uniquely pressing transportation funding needs,” Governor Bryan said.

The entire hearing can be viewed at the House Committee on Natural Resources You Tube Page at www.youtube.com/user/NaturalResourcesDems.

Categories
At VIFreep Breaking News Business News Consumer News Crime News St. Croix News St. John News St. Thomas News V.I. Legislature

St. Croix Senator Pushes For More Fiscal Accountability At WAPA

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Senator Kenneth L. “Kenny” Gittens is asking his colleagues to reconsider authorizing an independent investigation of the Virgin Islands Water & Power Authority following Monday’s Committee of the Whole hearing to address ongoing concerns at the utility, to include a problematic November 2021 audit report

“While I do think some positive steps have been taken, to date, no one has been held accountable for the waste, fraud, and abuse at WAPA and we have yet to realize the long-awaited promise of lower electricity bills,” Gittens said. 

During the hearing at the Earl B. Ottley Legislative Hall, Senators learned that WAPA currently owes $2.65 million in employee GERS contributions, including interest and fees. And that the quasi-government authority was behind $4.9 million in employer contributions, with an outstanding loan balance of $361,000 from the suspended Government Employees Retirement System loan program.

“This matter is serious, it’s criminal, hence my request for a special investigator to investigate what is taking place at the authority,” Gittens said. “This matter before us or this discussion as we speak right now is considered criminal and I want to put that on record.”

Senator Gittens, who chairs the Committee on Economic Development & Agriculture has been calling for a hearing on WAPA since last November’s release of a Virgin Islands Inspector General audit detailing more than $113 million in cost overruns on a Virgin Islands Water & Power Authority project promised to reduce energy bills by converting WAPA’s generators from diesel fuel to propane. WAPA officials projected that the fuel conversion, managed by a company known as VITOL, would save ratepayers more than 30 percent on their monthly electricity bills.

The original cost of the project was estimated at $87 million, but through a series of change orders and overruns, the final cost eventually more than doubled. The Senator noted many basic errors in WAPA’s management of the VITOL contract identified in the audit report, including hiring a law firm with a clear conflict of interest, not following basic contract protocols, and not informing the Board about critical decision making for their input and consent. 

“We cannot overstate the importance of WAPA leadership reporting to the body on a regular basis given its track record,” he said. “WAPA impacts every single member of this community, every business, every household. Expensive electricity drives up our cost of living and and hampers our overall economic development.” 

Senator Gittens said when he first moved to subpoena WAPA personnel and documents in 2019, no one knew how badly things actually were at the utility. 

“Much continues to be brought to light, but no one has yet been held accountable – not for the conflicts of interest, not for the selling of equipment, not for the questionable contracts and leases, not for allowing more than $2 million to be sent offshore to the Bank of China, and not for allowing the cost of the propane conversion to swell from $87 million to $200 million. I believe that the VITOL contract audit demonstrates once and for all that we must revisit my legislation to appoint a special investigator to deal with some of these lingering issues.”

 Bill #34-0080, introduced by Senator Gittens in August 2021, calls for the appointment of a Special Investigator with the authority to thoroughly review concerns related to WAPA and to make prosecutorial recommendations to the Virgin Islands Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney.

The investigator would have the power to issue subpoenas for evidence and witnesses and to engage government auditors and personnel as necessary to assist in the inquiry. Senators voted to hold the bill in the Committee on Government Operations & Consumer Protection.
“I am asking that we bring this legislation back to the table,” Senator Gittens said. “It is also critical that we provide more funding to the Office of the Inspector General if we are serious about addressing these issues. I am encouraged by some of the recent changes we see with WAPA’s leadership, but as I previously noted, no one has been held accountable for the millions in losses at WAPA. How do we stop further waste, fraud, and abuse without addressing what has been allowed to take place at WAPA? Why are WAPA officials being moved to other agencies or allowed to resign or retire without any consequence? If we keep allowing these transgressions, we are doomed to to repeat them.”

Categories
At VIFreep Breaking News Government House News Health News St. Croix News St. John News St. Thomas News

Health Commissioner Stresses Importance of Self-Monitoring As COVID-19 Goes Endemic

CHRISTIANSTED — During Monday’s weekly Government House briefing, Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion said it was important for residents to self-monitor as the territory transitions from the pandemic phase of COVID-19 to the endemic phase of the virus.

In an endemic phase, a virus will always be circulating among the community in some like, like the flu or the common cold. Some portion of the population will always be positive for infection, whether they know it or not.

“We now need to shift our thinking toward self-monitoring,” Commissioner Encarnacion said. “Right now, while our numbers are high and transition is likely, the department is asking everyone to become vigilant about self-monitoring and respond appropriately with mask-wearing and social distancing when in unsafe, crowded surroundings.”

The Commissioner also said the Department of Health has aligned it’s guidance with that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding isolating and quarantining for those who test positive for COVID-19.

People who test positive, regardless of vaccination status, must isolate for at least five full days and remain quarantined until there are no symptoms.

Those who have tested positive can come out of isolation once they have been fever=free for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine, such as Tylenol. They also should take precautions for 10 days and wear a mask for the entire 10 days, especially if they are around persons who are immunocompromised.

It is not necessary to re-test for COVID-19 after coming out of isolation, Commissioner Encarnacion said.

Quarantining is for anyone exposed to a positive COVID-19 case, and there are three categories:

  • Persons who are not up-to-date on having the COVID vaccine should quarantine for five days; wear a mask while around others and watch for symptoms for 10 days and get tested on Day 5, even if no symptoms develop.
  • Persons who are up-to-date on vaccines (fully vaccinated and boosted) do not need to quarantine unless symptoms develop, should get tested on Day 5 regardless of whether symptoms develop and wear well-fitted mask for 10 days from the date of exposure.
  • Persons who have had a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the 90 days prior to exposure do not need to quarantine unless symptoms develop, and they should watch for symptoms for 10 days and wear a well-fitted mask during the period.

Home testing

Positive test results from a home COVID-19 test should be confirmed, and confirmation is absolutely necessary if medical therapeutic treatment with an oral antiviral or monoclonal antibodies are to be prescribed.

Confirmation testing can be arranged by calling the COVID-19 hotline at 340-712-6299 on St. Croix or 340-776-1519 on St. Thomas. The hotline is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, and testing appointments can be made online at http://www.Covid19USVI.com/testing

Free Vaccinations

The Community Vaccination Center (CVC) at Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday-Friday and on Wednesdays on St. John at the V.I. Port Authority gravel lot.

Free vaccinations at the CVC at the Charles Harwood Complex on St. Croix are available by appointment, which can be made by calling 340-777-8227 or by going to http://www.covid19usvi.com/vaccines. Walk-ins also are available.

COVID-19 cases as of May 16

• 14.92% seven-day positivity rate

• Currently tracking 901 active cases (362 STX; 518 STT; 21 STJ)

• 54.41% vaccination rate in USVI (43.98% on STX; 46.52% on STT; 73.36% on STJ)

• There are 5 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, with one on a ventilator, at Luis Hospital on St. Croix.

• There are 11 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, with one on a ventilator, at Schneider Regional Medical Center on St. Thomas. 

More COVID-19 information

The hours for the Department of Health hotlines will change beginning March 2 to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. Anyone who thinks they may have contracted COVID-19 can call the Epidemiology hotline at 340-712-6299 (STX) or 340-776-1519 (STT-STJ). For more information, visit covid19usvi.com.

For information about the COVID-19 vaccines or to schedule an appointment to get vaccinated, call the VITEMA hotline Mondays-Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 340-777-VACS (8227).

Governor Bryan Congressional testimony

Governor Albert Bryan is scheduled to testify virtually before the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Natural Resources at 10 a.m. Wednesday, and he will brief the committee on the state of the territory, the Territory’s priorities for 2022, and the President’s Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request.

The hearing will be livestreamed on the Committee’s You Tube Page at http://www.youtube.com/user/NaturalResourcesDems

Categories
At VIFreep Breaking News Caribbean News International News Sports News St. Croix News St. John News St. Thomas News

Standout USVI Basketball Talent Recognized By International Bodies FIBA, NBA and Nike

SAN ANTONIO — The Virgin Islands Basketball Federation announced Friday that Kaden Gumbs has been chosen to participate in the 11th Basketball Without Borders Americas camp hosted by the NBA and FIBA.

The camp will be held Monday, May 16 through Thursday, May 19 at La Loma Centro Deportivo (La Loma), the official home of NBA Academy Latin America, marking the first BWB camp since the BWB Global NBA All-Star in Chicago in 2020, and the first in Mexico since 2009.

According to the release, Basketball Without Borders Americas is an elite basketball skills camp for top young players from across the region. Gumbs was individually selected by the NBA and FIBA based on his outstanding basketball skills and leadership abilities.

The 6-foot-2 guard was a member of St. Croix’s Positive Guidance Basketball Club under the direction of Jose Gonzalez and recently committed to the Texas State University. Currently, Gumbs plays with JL3 (John Lucas –current Houston Rockets assistant coach) AAU team the EYBL. Gumbs scored his thousandth point this past season at San Marcos High School in Texas and is the 24th person from the Virgin Islands to partake in the prestigious event.

“I think it is an honor to play and train with the Basketball Without Borders Camp,” said Gumb. “It’s a great accomplishment for me and I can’t wait to have a great experience with the staff and other players. I’m ready to get to work and enjoy this once in a lifetime opportunity and a special “Thank you” to the Virgin Islands Basketball Federation for selecting me. I will represent the Virgin Islands to the best of my ability.”

According to the release, the campers will be coached by NBA players Leandro Bolmaro (Minnesota Timberwolves; Argentina; BWB Americas 2017) and Chris Duarte (Indiana Pacers; Dominican Republic). NBA, NBA G League and FIBA assistant coaches Lindsey Harding (Sacramento Kings), Steve Hetzel (Portland Trail Blazers), Sidney Lowe (Cleveland Cavaliers), Ron Nored (Pacers), Don Showalter (USA Basketball) and Mitch Thompson (Mexico City Capitanes) will also serve as BWB Americas coaches.

The NBA and FIBA will cover all expenses incurred by the participants of the camp, including travel costs (airfare), accommodations, ground transportation, meals and insurance for the duration of the camp, the V.I. Basketball Association said. Players and coaches will lead the campers through a variety of activities, including movement efficiency drills, offensive and defensive skill stations, three-point contests, 5-on-5 games, and life skills and leadership development sessions.

Nike, a BWB global partner since 2002, will outfit the campers and coaches with Nike apparel and footwear.