Good Morning, Good Morning! Due to the recent (January 3) changes in protocols, I have written a lot about the testing requirements to get into the territory recently. And many of you have scrambled and made those quick turnaround tests happen! But, what I haven’t mentioned is the effects of this current surge in the territory, on St. John specifically. And there is some definite news you can use here, especially if you are currently on island or planning a last minute trip!
One of the unending parts of this job is to follow social media in order to keep myself updated on trends in the industry, commonly asked questions and challenges that visitors are experiencing. Yes, I’m out and about and tapped into the on-the-ground “Coconut Telegraph” here on St. John, but, sometimes Facebook is a great way to get a bird’s eye view into what is going on here. And, recently, there have been a TON of last minute cancellations for both villas/condos and charter boat trips.
Generally speaking, these last minute changes don’t happen in high frequency at the last minute on St. John due to loss of deposits and cancellation policies (Call your accommodations to find out what their COVID policies are for cancellations!). However, with this new surge and the changes in testing policies to enter the territory, there have been A TON of them posted publicly…I can’t speak to the ones that are not being shared in order to try to find a last minute booking in order to compensate for the lost revenue. But, I’m sure there are more that we are not seeing…
I know from speaking to two different hospitality agents that positive COVID tests prior to traveling have been to blame for some of these. And that the lack of testing resources in some areas may also be the culprit. On the plus side, if you are on island and looking to extend your stay, have experienced a cancellation from your accommodations or are looking for a last minute trip, keep an eye on the St. John FB groups (St. John Last Minute Boat Trips & Vacation Rental Deals is a great one!). There are a ton of openings out there for both boat charters and rentals.
Additionally, it seems many St. Thomas based boat charters are getting last minute cancellations due to cruise ships not being able to make their scheduled call. Much like in many other places around the Caribbean, the USVI has a strict policy when it comes to the percentage of positive cases on board a ship. More than 1%? The passengers will not disembark in the territory.
St. John day boats don’t necessarily see as much traffic from cruise ship visitors as the St. Thomas boats that will pick up near the ports. But I do know of at least one instance personally where a trip was cancelled with three days notice due to cruise ship passengers encountering some type of COVID related issue.
On St. John specifically, we currently have OVER 100 positive cases of COVID-19. The Department of Health has expanded the days and hours for pop-up testing at the gravel lot and, even so, it has been PACKED with residents anxious to test before reporting to work and potentially spreading this nasty bug. Previously the testing was just once week and now they are offering the services three days a week. Still packed!
The outcome of these tests have driven several favorite restaurants to close their doors for a period of time due to staffing shortages and COVID-related causes. You see, even if your opinion rests with a lack of necessity to stop the spread, the restaurants and other businesses here on island are SO short staffed that if even one staffer is unable to report for duty because they are ill, the business can’t open their doors! Literally everyone is hiring!
Over the New Year holiday, Dave & Jerry’s Island Steakhouse closed their doors (on one of the busiest nights of the year, I might add!). Stating that they would not be able to open in order to have their entire staff tested, the Steakhouse closed their doors on New Year’s Eve and re-opened with their active staff members who received negative test results.
This week, the dining reservations are going to get even MORE tricky with the following restaurants closed to due COVID-related staffing shortages:
- Lime Inn – Closed until January 10
- The Terrace – Closed until January 7
- Extra Virgin Bistro – Closed until January 11
- Miss Lucy’s- closed until January 10
The Longboard is remaining open through the week, but have announced they will be serving a limited menu with limited hours due to a staffing shortage. (Kitchen open until 9PM, bar until 10PM)
Additionally, many businesses have announced the closure of their doors for a day so that staff can get tested. So, if you have a place in mind, or have reservations for certain places, over the coming weeks, keep an eye on their Facebook pages and/or call ahead to check their hours and days of operation. I’ll do my best to continue to update this list as I see others pop up.
The moral of the story? Yes, this variant is not as deadly. The Governor stated in his press conference on Tuesday that he is keeping an eye on the hospital beds. On St. Thomas, there are nine patients in house (two on ventilators) and on St. Croix there are five patients in house (zero on ventilators).
Even with the surge in cases, these numbers are not high and the Governor says he sees no need to reassess our policies as long as they stay that way (ie, he is not leaning towards any drastic changes like closing the territory as in the past surges). Which is all great news! But, this Omicron business is still adversely affecting our local community and businesses in the sense of loss of revenue due to staffing shortages. People can’t work if they are sick…COVID or not. And that’s precisely one of the reasons for the shortened testing window and the turning away of cruise ship passengers. If the whole territory is sick, (AGAIN, COVID or otherwise), there are no boats to charter, no restaurants to eat at, no one to clean your villa, etc.
The goal is, and has always been, to keep our doors as open as possible and to balance lives and livelihoods. The lost revenue to villa rentals and boat charter agencies is tough, because it is directly related to positive test results (or lack of testing resources!) on a case by case basis. But, it is effectively, seemingly, keeping more cases out of the territory in an attempt to keep our businesses working. It truly is a double edged sword…I was up most of the night last night pondering all of this.
If you are reading this, and you were unable to make your travels happen, I extend my sincerest condolences. I have family and friends visiting at the end of the month and am going through similar freak out modes with them about their tests (Selfishly, I want my people here!!!). My advice to them, and to you, is this. LAY LOW for a week or so before your trip! I understand not everyone can do that. Kids are in school, people have to go to work, etc. But, maybe cut out the dinner dates, the grocery trips, the extracurriculars that you can in order to keep yourselves healthy and get on that flight to Love City!