Officials warned Thursday that the Virgin Islands are on the precipice of a post-holiday spike in COVID-19 cases, and said the territory’s vaccination rollout suffered a recent hiccup after 250 doses were compromised by improper storage.
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. said during the government’s weekly coronavirus update that 874 people have been tested since the last update on New Year’s Eve, and of those, 78 were positive — a positivity rate of just below 9%.
“Our numbers are rising,” Bryan said. “As a matter of fact, in the last two days alone we have encountered 50 new COVID positives in the territory. I can’t stress enough how there’s a need to follow the guidelines, and all of this spread is due to the holiday travel and many gatherings both legally and illegally.”
There are currently 127 known active cases and no COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the Virgin Islands, but “we’re just seeing the head of a new surge that we’re going to be experiencing and will probably last another two weeks, so wear your mask and get ready for some more numbers to come in that are going to show heavy spread in the next couple days. That’s what we are anticipating, that’s what we are preparing for,” Bryan said. While Virgin Islanders have enjoyed a relatively low number of serious cases and hospitalizations, “in the states they are so overwhelmed with COVID patients at this point that some states have made the heart-wrenching decision not to take people who have had cardiac arrests to the ER. So, they’re not even taking people who have COVID-19 and their heart stops beating to the emergency room,” Bryan said.
“Eleven months we’ve been running and we’ve been doing good, and certainly we don’t want to mess up now.”
Inevitably, the number of hospitalizations “will start to increase as we see the holiday cheer being redistributed in COVID infections. If you can’t wear your mask and you can’t wash your hands and you can’t social distance, stay home. Please. We cannot afford to keep this spread going, we are almost there,” Bryan said.
V.I. Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion urged residents to take every possible precaution available, including the vaccine as it becomes more widely available. There have been 1,338 people vaccinated in the territory to date, but Encarnacion said 25 vials containing approximately 250 doses of the Pfizer vaccine spoiled during handling.
“With the Pfizer, you only have a few minutes to transfer it from one section to the next, and if it’s taken out of the ultracold storage facility or freezer you cannot actually put it back in, unless it’s actually placed into what’s called ‘the pizza box.’ We had one incident in which that was not done correctly,” Encarnacion said.
In addition to those 250 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, “I have to tell you that we did receive a couple doses of vaccines from Moderna from McKesson,” which may have been compromised as well, Encarnacion said. The Health Department is still waiting for confirmation from Moderna and “we cannot say whether or not those doses have been compromised.”
The department is continuing to conduct free testing at various sites throughout the territory, and free drive-through testing is available today on St. Thomas from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Home Depot parking lot. There will be limited walk-up accommodations. Bring a valid ID and follow directions on the signs upon arrival.
For more information on COVID-19 in the territory, including who is currently eligible to receive the vaccine and where it’s available, visit COVID19USVI.com or the V.I. Department of Health Facebook page.