With the Easter holiday just around the corner, and the Virgin Islands suffering its first confirmed death as a result of the COVID-19 virus, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. on Monday ordered all public beaches in the territory to close through April 20.

The order, effective immediately, is the latest attempt by the Bryan administration to foil large gatherings and promote social distancing — the latter of which, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the most effective way of preventing transmission of the virus.

“No one is allowed on the beaches at all for any purpose, whether it’s jogging or whatever,” Bryan said at a Government House press briefing on St. Croix.

The order will be enforced by the V.I. National Guard, the V.I. Police Department and the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources.

Bryan added that places of worship and non-essential businesses will remain closed until April 30 as part of his stay-at-home order.

The governor, who declared a territorywide state of emergency March 13, urged the public to “take this virus seriously,” as the coming weeks — particularly between April 24 and May 14 — are expected to be a peak period of hospitalizations.

“I want you to really concentrate during this period of Easter to just stay at home, remaining in place and only going out when absolutely necessary so we can nip this thing in the bud once and for all,” Bryan said.

First COVID-19 death

The territory’s first death linked to the COVID-19 virus involved an 85-year-old St. Thomas man who died Saturday at his home.

According to the V.I. Health Department, the man, who had underlying medical conditions, unknowingly came into contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case that traveled from Anguilla.

Bryan said the man’s passing made the Virgin Islands the “last jurisdiction under the U.S. flag to record a death from the coronavirus.”

To date, 285 people in the territory have been tested for the virus — of which 43 tested positive; 222 tested negative; and 20 are pending results.

Of the 43 positive cases — 29 on St. Thomas, 12 on St. Croix, and two on St. John – 36 have recovered.

One patient is being treated at Luis Hospital on St. Croix; and two are being treated at Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas, one of which is on a ventilator.

During the press briefing, V.I. Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion said the use of face coverings is a voluntary public health measure and that there is no mandate to wear one.

“We do recommend that you utilize a face mask if you are ill or if you will be in close contact with someone who is elderly or has a compromised immune system,” she said.

Support for farmers, fishers

Sen. Allison DeGazon, who serves as chairperson of the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture, appeared at Monday’s press briefing to discuss potential stimulus measures post-COVID-19, and ways to support the territory’s fragile agriculture sector.

“Food is our basic need and we must defend our food systems and the people who work in them,” she said. “What we don’t see are the small-scale producers working in remote areas far from the cameras who continue to grow and provide food that is critical for local food security.”

“Farmers and fishers are our heroes too,” she added.

DeGazon said she is proposing the use of $100,000 from applicable funds to purchase produce from farmers for the Education Department’s No Child Goes Hungry Program and for the Agriculture Department to sell back to the community and to support feeding initiatives for the elderly.

Who to contact

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 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.

“The White House is referring to the next two weeks as the nation’s next 9/11 or Pearl Harbor moment,” Bryan said. “We can’t afford a 9/11 or Pearl Harbor here in the territory, so I am appealing to you: tell your friends, your family and your loved ones to do the right thing and to stay at home.”

— Contact A.J. Rao at 340-714-9104 or email ajrao@dailynews.vi.