St. Croix’s Luis Hospital reported an “all-time high” number of COVID-19 hospitalizations Sunday, other government agencies announced closings territorywide and at least one St. Thomas business closed briefly as the V.I. Health Department investigated reports of a COVID outbreak in the wake of an upsurge in cases.

“Today, our number of COVID-positive patients is 18, prior to July 21, our highest number was 8,” attorney Chivonne Thomas shared in an online post Sunday.

Thomas, who serves as the hospital’s legal counsel and spokesperson, urged residents ages 12 and older who are eligible to get vaccinated.

“None of these hospitalized COVID-19 positive patients is fully vaccinated,” she wrote.

Reached for comment Sunday evening, Thomas said three of the 18 patients are currently on a ventilator.

To date 37 people have died from COVID in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“The human cost of COVID-19 is real,” Thomas wrote in urging vaccinations. “Our hard-working health care workers are your family, friends and neighbors, please care for them, pray for them and protect them. We are all #StrongerTogether.”

Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion, reached Sunday through spokesperson Jahnesta Ritter, said seven people are currently hospitalized at Schneider Hospital with COVID. Two are on ventilators.

She also responded to emailed questions on reports of COVID cases at Cost-U-Less on St. Thomas as well as reports of Luis Hospital nurses boasting to patients that they were unvaccinated.

Asked what recourse Health can take to ensure the safety of residents during the public health scare, Encarnacion said she is working with the hospital board to “manage the situation and protect both staff and patients entering the facilities.”

“Once a final decision is made about the policies on vaccinations for hospital staff, the media will [be] immediately informed.”

Encarnacion said her department “has been seeing higher positive numbers in our businesses and agencies [government offices] alike” and once alerted takes action.

“One positives are identified, the DOH takes action until we can fully discuss the issues with corporate and local managers,” Encarncion said in an emailed response through her spokesperson. “We did just that and was truly satisfied with the added precautions taken by the heads of the business that will ensure a safe environment for all staff and patrons. DOH will continue to partner with Cost-U-Less and all other agencies to ensure the safety of our community.”

Meantime, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr., citing the spread of the delta variant, has delayed next week’s resumption of in-person classes, and opted for students and teachers reporting virtually for now. Encarnacion has also advised private and parochial schools to use virtual learning during the current COVID-19 upsurge.

As of Sunday, several government agencies have opted to close temporarily after staff tested positive for COVID, while others like the V.I. Supreme Court opted to suspend in-person services this month.

Superior & Supreme courts

Chief Justice Rhys S. Hodge announced he’d signed an administrative order temporarily suspending in person services and proceedings within the territory’s court system effective today.

“All proceedings scheduled to occur between August 2, 2021, and August 31, 2021, in the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands and the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands shall occur as scheduled but shall be heard remotely rather than in person, however a presiding judge or Administrative judge may permit an in-person proceeding provided the proceeding is not able to be conducted remotely,” according to the order announced via news release.

It noted that the Office of the Clerk of the Superior Court, and the Office of the Clerk of the Supreme Court will remain open to accept electronic filings. Documents that cannot e-filed electronically can be deposited in drop boxes at the entrance of all Supreme Court and Superior Court entrances. Any payments that cannot be made online can be paid via certified check or money orders deposited into the drop boxes, according to the release.

V.I. Legislature

The V.I. Legislature has suspended in-person testimony, effective immediately, and until further notice, Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory announced.

According to a released statement, the legislative building on St. Croix will be closed today, and all employees expected to be tested in an ongoing effort to ensure a safe working environment,

“This closure will allow for the building to be fully sanitized,” she said in a news release.