Good Morning and a Happy 2021 to you all!!! FINALLY! We made it 🙂
I want to take a moment today to share some reflections of some St. John memories of 2020. Some are great. Some are a little tough to hear again. But all in all, I felt a timeline of this year, of all years, was important to document.
And what a year it has been.
The beginning of something great…
January started out as “normal.” We were actually thriving here! Murmurings about “the busiest season since before Irma” hummed around Love City as businesses and charity events hit record highs in sales and donations!
Destra was here for New Years Eve and MANY folks on STJ remarked that it felt like Foxy’s on Jost van Dyke! There were SO MANY people in Cruz Bay. Visitors and residents danced the night away between the Cruz Bay Waterfront and the Port Authority Lot. Beach Bar was OPEN for the first time since 2017. Everything felt…a little hectic…but on the verge of something amazing!
Light up the Night, the annual St. John Cancer Fundraiser had an amazing turnout on “the block” and “The Heart of Love City” continued its rounds….
The ACC Gala and the Love City Seafood Fest also were huge contributions to this first beautiful month of this bright New Year!
February was one for the books….
The Friends of VI National Park hosted their annual gala in Peter Bay with a record turnout!
Whales were everywhere….
And remember when we could go to the British Virgin Islands?
8 Tuff Miles had a record turnout and the festivities went on for days!
And then, in March things changed rather quickly…
The Second Annual VI Jam Fest was the first weekend of the month. A lot of wonderful people from the states came down to visit for that.
And with them came talk of a virus. Something that not many of us had really heard much about. But things in the states were starting to get strange. Something bad was happening in New York. But, like everything else that happens up there, we felt weirdly removed from it. We were hugging and dancing that weekend. Magical things were happening.
And then, on March 16, the Governor announced that schools would be closing and gatherings should be limited to 50 people. That we should limit our use of public transportation. That we should stay at home if we could.
And then…The St. Patrick’s Day Parade was cancelled.
And on March 21, 2020, the Governor announced that we would be closing to tourism for 30 days….In lieu of not being able to close the federal airports, he outlawed reservation acceptance by accommodations for the next 30 days in an effort to protect the community and our fragile healthcare system from getting thwarted.
“If you are coming to the Virgin Islands, you will not have anywhere to stay for the next 30 days,” Governor Bryan stated.
Effective that Wednesday, a “stay at home” order was in place.
And, just like that, in three weeks’ time, COVID was in the USVI and putting a stop to our income producing season and the beginnings of a joyous new year.
April & May in Quarantine on island…
For the most part, April and May kind of rolled into one month. I spent my days working from home, hiking or hitting a beach for a brief time period in the evening and cooking dinner with my quaranteam. I don’t think that my days differed much from many of those who work a desk job on St. John. But grocery store employees and front line workers were expected to report to duty.
The restaurants were open for take out, so a lot of F&B business owners had to make a choice to stay open and keep people employed or close their doors so their staff could collect unemployment. Things happen MUCH slower here. And the unemployment offices had to wait for Federal Payouts for the stimulus checks, unemployment checks, etc. A lot of restaurants came up with new and exciting take out options to keep business steady for their staff.
We did not have a toilet paper shortage. We did not have a shortage of bleach or price gauging of hand sanitizer. We know how to stock up for a pandemic here. We do it every summer. Just in case….So, hurricane prep shopping came a bit early this year, but our stores were ready and did a great job of keeping things in stock. Except for vanilla and yeast…Apparently we had a lot of folks trying their hands at baking amidst all of this.
We did have sunsets and isolated hikes and sand between our toes. Until early April, when the Governor and the NPS announced that our beaches and trails would be closed throughout the Easter holiday….They re-opened on April 20.
With the world going into a global shutdown, our bays were all of a sudden filled with boats returning to their native waters or those passing through in search of a safe haven.
In Mid- May, the territory was COVID free. A mask mandate was put in place. Restaurants returned to in-house dining. Non-essential stores were open for business. I often refer to those last two weeks of May as a brief relief. We were having drinks with our friends again. Hugging our loved ones. It felt SAFE. It felt NORMAL.
A glimmer of hope and then another shut down…
We re-opened to visitors on June 1. During this time, more testing was made available via the Department of Health COVID hotline. On June 12, the positive cases on St. John started to trickle in again. By the end of that month, I myself was calling in to get tested after a friend tested positive. It was a duration of two weeks between my first phone call and the delivery of my negative test results. We have, at this point, come a long way.
Sahara dust swarmed St. John, providing additional challenges for mask wearing and those with respiratory issues. But, also bringing a glimmer of hope for a kind storm season and some incredibly unique sunsets.
Restaurants slowly started re-opening, and closing, and re-opening again…. Dependant upon whether or not a staff member had been in contact with a positive COVID case.
St. John Carnival was cancelled, but it went virtual. Local musicians went virtual and then went live again.
The roller coaster of the new normal was unending.
At the beginning of July, the Governor rolled out testing requirements at the airport and a unique travel portal that many other islands and territories would later follow the model of. As of July 15, 2020, travelers into the territory (from select “hot” states) aged 15 or older would need to provide negative test results within 72 hours of arrival or an anti-body test within four months. (These requirements have changed over the past few months…for current testing protocols go here.)
Tropical Cyclone 9 threatened the territory and the Governor issued a curfew and port closure, but the storm passed on without incident.
In August, the territory shut down for a second time….
After two months of back and forth and mask mandates and regulations and safer at home orders, the surge in positive COVID-19 cases won and, in mid-August, the USVI closed to visitors for a second time and a stay at home order was enacted, forcing non-essential businesses back into closures.
A group of Caribbean Animal shelters battled COVID challenges and produced a light on the horizon. Via this partnership, hundreds of animals from five different islands were safely evacuated to partners in the states.
The stay at home order would extend into September, leaving residents out of work and stuck at home. But the beaches and trails were open for limited hours at this time. Giving people a healthy outlet and source of Vitamin D!
In September, the USVI would once again re-open to tourism and St. John would get creative with entertainment options. Two socially distant drive-in theaters opened in that month, giving residents another safe way to stay entertained and get out of the house after the stay at home order was lifted on September 8.
The BVI announced the Love BVI Campaign and their attempts to “re-open” to visitors in December.
Throughout the summer and early fall months, the NPS slowly re-opened services, facilities and different offices. Trunk Bay and its facilities re-opened in September along with the last piece of the puzzle falling into place in October. The Visitor Center in Cruz Bay re-opened to the public just before Halloween as island residents and businesses cancelled regularly scheduled holiday festivities and opted for things a bit out of the norm.
The rain fell HARD on St. John throughout the month of October, putting an end to the seasonal drought, filling cisterns and flooding road ways.
And, in November, our doors remained open, our businesses too and that “new season” feeling of novelty set in. New faces, new businesses, everyone open, the faint buzz of tourism in the air. Everything felt a little right again for a bit!
As the USVI remained open, it climbed in popularity for those in the states with the urge to travel this season. Hurricane season came and went without incident making way for the holiday of gratitude. And then Thanksgiving came and went. And with it an inevitable surge in cases, despite the Governor’s urges to keep holiday gatherings safe and small.
Courtesy pop-up testing began happening weekly for St. John residents. With lines wrapping around the gravel lot each Wednesday afternoon, you could tell the community and the Department of Health is taking this seriously.
And December came with a breath of relief that we were remaining open through the busiest time of the year. And when I say busy, I am not exaggerating! The restaurants and beaches are full. The bays are overflowing with beautiful boats.
The BVI re-opened their airport to visitors on the first and delayed the opening of their seaports to the 21st of January. Cherished holiday gatherings on St. John were canceled and Christmas came and went with its self-titled winds.
And now, here we are. The end of a year that no one will soon forget. And the beginning of something promising. Something new and hopefully bright! I hope that the winds of 2021 fill your sails and bring you joy and magic. And I hope that all of you will get the opportunity to visit us and celebrate this new horizon one day very soon.