Third COVID-19 death in the US Virgin Islands as government requests additional funds
During an April 20 press briefing at Government House in Christiansted, United States Virgin Islands Governor Albert Bryan Jr. (D) informed the community of a third fatality in the territory from COVID-19 and urged residents not to let their guard down even though the public beaches have reopened.
The territory’s third death from COVID-19 was a 77-year-old man from St. Croix with an underlying history of health issues and who had recently traveled from Florida.
To date, 625 individuals have been tested for the coronavirus, with 554 testing negative. Of the 53 people who tested positive, 48 of them have recovered and the US Virgin Islands Department of Health currently is tracking two cases and 18 test results still are pending.
Governor Bryan announced that all the territory’s public beaches have reopened, as have the beaches under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, with the exception of Cramer’s Park on St. Croix’s East End, which had been vandalized and was expected to reopen Wednesday, April 22.
“We are allowing beach restaurants to reopen, but we are restricting the sale of alcohol,” Governor Bryan said. “I want to remind the public that the requirements for social distancing and avoiding mass gatherings are still in effect and will be fully enforced. That means absolutely no congregations of more than 10 individuals.”
The Governor said governors on the mainland have tried to reopen their beaches only to see residents stop adhering to social and physical distancing regulations.
“If we run into similar issues with compliance here locally, I will have no choice but to close the beaches once again,” Governor Bryan cautioned. “I want to be absolutely clear, no picnics, no parties, no DJs, no get-togethers, no camping, no kick-backs, no bonfires.”
Governor Bryan also addressed the status of the federal stimulus checks and additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, and he said he has been assured by Delegate Stacey Plaskett (D) and Congressional leaders that more federal funding for the paycheck program is imminent.
The Governor also said residents who have not filed their income taxes for 2018 can obtain a federal stimulus check by filing a provisional tax return and indicate zero tax return and drop off the form at Internal Revenue Bureau office in their district. The governor said he anticipates people who use this process will get their stimulus checks by mid-May.
Governor Bryan also thanked all the nonprofits, businesses, and private individuals who have stepped up to fill the gaps in the community brought on by the pandemic. He specifically highlighted the work of My Brothers Workshop, which has distributed more than 6,500 meals throughout the territory and providing assistance to seniors and disabled residents.
The Governor concluded Monday’s briefing by noting that this week will be a test to determine the territory’s next steps in dealing with COVID-19.
“We are by no means out of the woods yet. It is clear from the experience of our brothers and sisters in the BVI that you can’t hide out forever from this virus. It will sit in wait for you,” Governor Bryan said. “I am asking for your help in doing the right thing and encouraging your neighbor to do the right thing. Stay at home when you are sick, practice social distancing, wash your hands and abide by the regulations that we have set forth for your safety and for the safety of our entire territory.”
Government seeking additional funding
In his continuing efforts to lobby the federal government for help in the territory’s fight against COVID-19, the governor also sent a letter to Congressional leaders requesting additional federal assistance for the US Virgin Islands.
In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D), Governor Bryan requested a number of items, in addition to the emergency measures he requested from the Congressional leaders on April 8.
“The US Virgin Islands is uniquely dependent on tourism. The devastating impact of the pandemic across our entire tourism sector – cruise ship arrivals, airline passengers and traffic, resorts and hotels, restaurants, and all related services – has been an enduring disaster without apparent end,” Governor Bryan wrote in the letter.
“Further, the cruise ship lockdown has now been extended to an additional 100 days,” he wrote.
The Governor said to overcome this disaster, the USVI needs and requests a cash infusion through:
- Cancellation of Community Disaster Loans from Hurricanes Irma and Maria ($300 million)
- An increase in CARES Act funding through a change in the set-aside for the insular areas ($206 million)
- Waiving the local cost-share for Hurricanes Irma and Maria (about $500 million) and the current COVID-19 disaster declaration (TBD)
- Cancellation of the Unemployment Trust Fund Debt (about $60 million)
Governor Bryan also requested:
- Full reimbursement of federal tax provisions imposed on the USVI by the CARES Act; Earned Income Tax Credit; Child Tax Credit; and other federal enactments paid by local treasury through the Mirrored Tax Code
- Equal treatment and reimbursement to local hospitals equivalent to that provided to hospitals in the States
- Promotion of investment in the territory as a path to economic stability and sustainability
- Forgiveness of SBA loans from Hurricanes Irma and Maria
- Enhanced funding and resources for border patrol and protection to stop the porous entry of high-risk COVID-19undocumented immigrants through the territory
“We need to put more money back into the territory. We are trying all sources for possible rescue from this incredible crisis that is not our making or the result of our decision-making: Governor Bryan wrote to the Congressional leaders. “I urge and thank you for favorable action on these requests to benefit the people, businesses, and government of this US territory.”
Congress currently is considering another national stimulus bill to supplement the COVID-19 assistance provided through the $2.2 trillion CARES Act.