Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. on Wednesday said restrictions on mass gatherings could extend to July and potentially put the kibosh on the St. John Festival, which begins in late June.
Bryan, who made the projection during a media teleconference, said while the territory is not in a full-fledged lockdown, it continues to operate under a state of emergency and a stay-at-home order, the latter of which has shut down non-essential businesses and banned large gatherings.
With President Donald Trump extending federal social distancing guidelines to April 30, Bryan projected that the territory will likely have restrictions last longer, with some going into the summer.
“We are at least two weeks behind the curve of the states, so you’re looking at mid-May before you get to a point where we think about easing down restrictions,” Bryan said. “Then, in order for us to allow for mass gatherings and open up everything — that’s at least June or July.”
Bryan said he “probably” will have to cancel the St. John Festival, based on the number of cases in the territory and the risk of community spread.
The St. Thomas Carnival, which was scheduled to begin this week, suffered such a fate.
“It just doesn’t look positive at this point anytime soon,” Bryan said.
To date, 201 people in the territory have been tested for the COVID-19 virus — of which 30 tested positive, 126 tested negative, and 24 are pending results, according to the V.I. Department of Health.
Of the 30 positive cases, 17 were on St. Thomas, 11 were on St. Croix, and two were on St. John.
Bryan said 25 out of the 30 positive cases have made a full recovery, and none required hospitalization.
As of this week, the territory has roughly 500 test kits on hand and can test up to 30 samples daily. By the end of Easter week, the territory should have the capacity to test up to 1,000 samples a day, according to Bryan.
Since test kits are still limited, testing is particularly focused on those identified via contact tracing individuals who have had contact with a positive case or someone who recently returned from the mainland.
Bryan said a nationwide shortage of reagents, which help detect the COVID-19 virus, means a limited supply of test kits for the time being.
“Right now, we only have a limited supply of [reagents], and that’s why we can only do 500 tests. But we should be able to ramp that up,” he said.
Bryan added that his administration is in the process of distributing personal protective equipment, including masks, to police officers and those “on the front lines” of combating the virus.
While no hospitalizations have resulted from the COVID-19 virus, Bryan assured the public that both Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas and Luis Hospital on St. Croix are working on building capacity.
V.I. Health officials are projecting more than 100 hospitalizations in the territory as a result of the COVID-19 virus, with a peak period to hit between April 24 and May 14.
“We are preparing for that scenario within the territory,” said V.I. Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion at a recent briefing. “We are working with the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency and our federal partners to secure increased staffing and medical equipment and supplies — to include 50 more ventilators.”
Bryan urged the community to abide by his stay-at-home order and to only go outside for essentials or in an emergency.
Individuals who show symptoms like fever, cough or shortness of breath, and who recently traveled to an area where person-to-person spread was identified, should self-quarantine at home and call the V.I. Health Department at 340-712-6299 or 340-776-1519.
For local information and updates on the virus and response efforts, visit doh.vi.gov/coronavirus.
Residents can also sign up for push notifications about the coronavirus in the territory by texting “COVID19USVI” to 888-777.