V.I. Health Department officials Tuesday identified the territory’s “hotbed estates” for COVID-19 transmission and how efforts to expand testing and outreach to these areas have helped reduce the territory’s positivity rate below 5%.

Providing an update to lawmakers on the local COVID-19 response, Territorial Epidemiologist Dr. Esther Ellis said “hotbed estates” are those that have experienced 75 or more people infected with the virus.

On St. Thomas, they included estates Bovoni, Contant, Demarara, King’s Quarter, Thomas and Anna’s Retreat. On St. Croix, they included Estate Cottage.

Ellis added that “you are more likely to be a positive case at this point if you are in the construction industry.”

Moreover, transmission through close contact remains the most prevalent form of transmission, even as cases of community spread continue to rise.

According to V.I. Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion, a recent drop in the positivity rate is largely credited to a multi-pronged strategy over the last month, one that included expanded testing and a “boots on the ground” outreach campaign.

“We have a total of 24 Abbott Now machines,” she said, referring to the quick turnaround COVID-19 testing machines. “The increased numbers have allowed us to increase testing throughout the territory with the capability to shift resources where and when needed the most as the machines are all portable.”

She added that many of the tests performed on the Abbott Now machines are done by the hospitals and two of the commercial labs on St. Croix and St. Thomas. Results can be ready within 15-17 minutes.

Encarnacion said those who utilize the department’s drive-through testing will be able to receive free tests. Those who use the labs will only have one test covered by their insurance company. She advised residents to contact the Health Department if they need additional tests.

The “Boots on the Ground” initiative includes sound trucks with Health messaging playing on a continuous loop, designed to inform and safely interact with the community, according to Encarnacion.

“Based on epidemiological mapping, areas with the highest positivity rates were presented with materials on mitigation efforts, testing availability and functional testing sites,” she said. “To date, members of these outreach teams have packaged and distributed over 2,000 masks, sanitizers and printed materials in different languages with key messaging.”

Encarnacion said as teams rotate through these neighborhoods, residents are reminded of the need for testing if any symptoms develop and referral assistance is provided.

Currently, 17,495 individuals, or 17% of the territory’s population, have been tested to date — of which 16,253 of those tested negative and 1,191 tested positive. Out of the 1,191 cases, 1,070 have recovered.

“Make no mistake, this outbreak has been challenging, but as strong Virgin Islanders, we are rising to the challenge,” Encarnacion said.

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