The V.I. Health Department has finally released details about four COVID-19 victims who died in the summer of 2020, including a 22-year-old woman who is the youngest person to die from the virus in the Virgin Islands since the pandemic began.
The Daily News has been requesting basic demographic information from the Health Department about the seventh through 10th COVID-19 victims since August 2020.
Health Department spokeswoman Jahnesta Ritter has repeatedly declined to provide detailed information about those victims, including their age, gender, and which island they died on.
In August 2020, however, Ritter told The Daily News that the eighth recorded death was not the fetus of the seventh victim, as had been widely rumored. But she refused to confirm whether the seventh victim was pregnant, or provide any additional information, including her age.
At the time Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion and Government House Communications Director Richard Motta Jr. also did not respond to questions from The Daily News.
On Tuesday, Ritter said in an email that the Health Department had already made the requested information public.
“In the beginning we either announced deaths at the weekly press briefing or via a press release. These days we do both,” Ritter wrote.
She provided information about the seventh through 10th COVID-19 deaths Tuesday afternoon, noting the victims were a 101-year-old woman on St. Thomas, a 46-year-old man on St. Croix, a 59-year-old man on St. Thomas, and a 22-year-old woman on St. Thomas.
“This might not be in the same order deaths were reported to the public and our media partners. When there is a death, it must be investigated and next of kin must be notified before we report it to the media,” Ritter wrote.
There’s no evidence, however, that the Health Department publicized the basic details about those four deaths before Tuesday.
In fact, the department specifically declined to release the information despite repeated requests from The Daily News and other media outlets.
It’s unclear why the department had not previously made the public aware that a 22-year-old had died from the virus.
Many young people believe they’re not at risk of death from COVID-19, and Ritter and Motta did not respond to questions about whether publicizing the death of a 22-year-old early on in the pandemic might have encouraged more young Virgin Islanders to get vaccinated.
The complete data also shows that the average age of the territory’s 75 COVID-19 victims is 68. The youngest victim was 22, and the oldest was 105.
There have been 47 deaths related to COVID-19 on St. Thomas, 26 on St. Croix, and two on St. John.
Of the 75 total victims reported to date, 37 were men and 38 were women.
To schedule an appointment for a free COVID-19 vaccination, call 340-777-8227 or visit covid19usvi.com/vaccines. Walk-ins are also accepted at Community Vaccination Centers.
For more information, visit covid19usvi.com. For COVID-19 updates, text COVID19USVI to 888777.