Good Morning, Good Morning! It has been a few weeks since my last update on the COVID-19 front in the Virgin Islands. And, with positive cases rising in the USVI, an enormous surge in the British Virgin Islands and that nasty Delta variant starting to rear its head here in the territories…Well, I thought it might be a good time to get everyone up to speed on the current travel requirements, territory safety protocols and a bit of other news about the presence of the virus in the Virgin Islands.
About a year ago, we sailed away from St. John in order to get to the states after being “quarantined” on island for several months. My boyfriend was offered a spot on a sailboat headed to Connecticut and he secured me a place as well and invited me along. Not knowing when I would be able to get on a plane to see my family again (remember the uncertainty?!?) and with island fever settling in hard, I took the figurative plunge and left the USVI for a bit on my first off-shore passage.
As we were readying the boat, the BVI was on total lock down and the rising number of positive COVID-19 cases in the recently re-opened USVI were threatening another territory wide shut-down. By the time I was back on the grid two weeks later, tensions were high in the USVI. And, on August 19, 2020, Governor Bryan ordered that all lodging and accommodations, once again, cease from accepting new check ins for a month, initiating the territory’s second shut down. The USVI re-opened on September 19, 2020 and, thanks to due diligence in travel testing and other safety protocols, has remained open (and thriving) while balancing the value of both lives and livelihoods.
Now, just one prosperous year later, we watch as cases rise yet again. Even with the USVI Government’s ambitious vaccination campaigns, mask mandates and social distancing protocols in place, and enforced. As of a few weeks ago, to date, the USVI had only 27 deaths due to COVID-19.
We are now at 35 deaths (that’s about 25% of the overall within a few weeks) with a record setting 21 individuals in the hospital, five of whom are currently on ventilators. Twelve of the current 208 cases in the territory have been confirmed as the new “Delta” variant. This number brings us to a 4.82% positivity rate that continues to rise after hovering in the one-two percentile for several months (our territory’s population is around 105,000).
I want to interject here that I have seen a multitude of people commenting and posting to ask if the territory will shut down again. The direct answer is no, there has been no mention of another shut down. The Governor mentioned in his statement on Monday that if we keep trending up, certain restrictions may come into play. My assumption is that, if we keep trending up on positive cases, we will see SEVERAL rollbacks on privileges, social distancing, events, etc., before we see an announcement about another shut down. In my opinion, the islands are busy right now and the economy is doing well and a shut down would be the absolute LAST RESORT. So, if you have an upcoming trip planned, just keep an eye on these COVID-19 updates. Anything relevant to travel mentioned in the weekly Government House press conference will be posted here in my weekly update.
The COVID-19 numbers in the USVI pale in comparison to the surge of positive cases on our sister islands right now.
In their July 23, 2021 report, the BVI reported 1100 active COVID-19 cases in the territory with a population of only 30,000 (source: World Bank). The most recent report (July 28) reports only 555…Which is great! But, if you look at their overall totals, it’s still pretty grim. To date, the BVI has had a TOTAL of 2500 positive COVID-19 cases. That means they were at half of their overall positivity rate just two weeks ago.
The USVI has lent the helping hands of two epidemiologists to our neighbors who are currently over there helping with COVID testing and training BVI staff on rapid test administration at the seaports.
The BVI is back on a curfew (7PM-5AM until at least August 6), has heightened their arrival testing protocols yet again and, for as long as the curfew is in effect, bars and nightclubs are closed and restaurants are are closed for in person dining (take out only). Restaurants at resorts and hotels, however, MAY cater to in-house diners but only overnight guests and visitors. All restrictions are in place for the length of the curfew period which will be reviewed again closer to the August 6 expiration date.
In response to the rising number of cases in the BVI, Governor Bryan has tightened the reigns on individuals entering the USVI from our neighboring territory. On July 15, he announced that the testing window would be more narrow for individuals entering the USVI from the BVI.
Until further notice, persons traveling from the BVI into the USVI must present test results obtained within 48 hours of traveling that show a negative COVID-19 for those who are not vaccinated or a positive antibody test for those who are vaccinated.
“Right now, we are under full watch for what is going on in the British Virgin Islands. The current situation, ladies and gentlemen, is not good, and that’s putting it lightly,” Governor Bryan said.
As of, now, I have been unable to find anything in regards to changes to the BVI travel protocol. To my knowledge, it is still as stands in this post dated June 15. The exception to this is that now vaccinated travelers will have to pre-test AND test upon arrival and await results. This change was made earlier this month as numbers began to climb.
So, here we are, sixteen months after the COVID-19 Beast first reared its ugly head in the Virgin Islands…To say that we are all tired of hearing about it is an understatement. I’d be brutally lying if I said I wasn’t tired of writing about it. But, we are STILL here. Still dealing with it. Still losing people to it. Still cancelling events and closing businesses over it. I hate COVID-19. But, just because I hate it, doesn’t mean I can just imagine it away.
Do I write this article to scare you? No, absolutely not. Do I write it to make you wary of traveling to the Virgin Islands? No WAY! I have been traveling with caution since the beginning of this whole mess (What can I say? I have the bug…Always have always will). Do I write it to better explain WHY the policies in the USVI and BVI still remain a bit, um…more strict than elsewhere? Absolutely. Yes. That’s it.
For those of you who follow along religiously, these next pieces of information might be a bit redundant. So first, I’m sorry about that. Second, thank you for keeping up to date with me and all of the ever changing policies, protocols, etc. etc. etc.
First off, the aforementioned USVI numbers don’t seem high in comparison to the rising numbers in the states…And definitely not in comparison to the BVI 🙁 But let me gently remind you that we are, yes, a part of the United States. But our health care system isn’t necessarily on par with the Cleveland Clinic. And, just like everything else in the USVI…they are immensely short staffed! You get sick in Florida? In Georgia? In Ohio? You have your pick of the litter of world class health care facilities to engage in your treatment options. You take ill on St. John? You have the Schneider Regional Medical Center on St. Thomas…Or an airplane to the closest stateside hospital of your choice pending you have the resources to do so. And, unfortunately, many local residents do not have the luxury of traveling to the states for care.
Having said all of this, Governor Bryan and the Department of Health are still taking all necessary precautions in regards to the health and safety of the Virgin Islanders. In addition to ramping up testing restrictions for individuals entering the territory from the BVI, there are still testing protocols in place for anyone entering the territory from elsewhere by land or sea. The following testing requirements still stand as follows…Whether you are vaccinated or not.
- A negative COVID-19 Molecular (PCR) or Antigen (Rapid) test administered within five days of commencement of travel.
- A positive COVID-19 Antibody test administered within four months of commencement of travel. (If you are vaccinated, you should, in theory, test positive for antibodies two to three weeks after your second shot).
You DO NOT need a test to return to the states unless your end destination requires it. You do not need a test for your layover if that state or territory requires it.
You DO have to register with the USVI travel portal and upload your results or your antibody test and receive a green QR code from the portal before you are cleared for travel.
However, as of YESTERDAY, there is some reprieve from testing for individuals who were fully vaccinated within the US Virgin Islands! On July 1, the Department of Health launched the PolarisKey Digital Vax Pass. According to Health Commissioner Justa E. Encarnacion’s statement during the July 26 press conference, the Polaris Key should be working alongside the USVI Travel Portal as of Wednesday, July 28,2021. Individuals who have been fully vaccinated within the USVI and have received approval through the Vax Pass should be able to fly into the territory without a test (You still have to complete the portal however). This is a step in the right direction for a bit more leniency for the vaccinated traveler visiting the USVI. Trust me when I say, if I never have to see a Q-Tip within arm’s reach of my nose again I will be blissfully happy for the rest of my days 🙂
The USVI is also still operating under a territory wide mask mandate. This means that in, on and around all modes of public transportation (ferries, airports, planes, taxis), businesses and, generally speaking, public spaces, you should be wearing a mask. Yes, you can still belly up at your favorite watering hole, take that mask off and enjoy painkillers, great conversations and sunset views to your heart’s content. But, when you enter a business, get up from your seat to head to the bathroom or rush across the bar to say hello to a long lost friend or arriving companion, please mask up. Additionally, unless there is a takeout line at your establishment of choice, you need to be seated to be served.
EVERYONE, our loyal visitors included, has worked very hard to keep the US Virgin Islands open and prosperous over the past year. There is something to be said for the protocols in place, our beautiful open spaces and constant 80 degree temperature that combine to make it St. John a rather difficult environment for this nuisance of a virus to thrive in. But, we are still in this. And the USVI is sticking to the rules for the time being. Let’s all do our part to keep the USVI open, thriving and SAFE during this current hillcrest of the LONGEST (and least exciting) roller coaster ride ever. But, I leave you with this. The island is stunningly green and beautiful right now. The beaches, bars, restaurants, trails and activities are open. St. John continues to thrive…We just need to do so with caution so we can keep on, keeping on 🙂