"We've taken steps forward in our path to the new normal, and even took steps backward when it was necessary. Today, we're about to take a giant step forward."
The quote above is attributed to Governor Albert Bryan, delivered during his press briefing today, where the governor announced major changes to his administration's Covid-19 guidelines that essentially fully opened the U.S. Virgin Islands to allow activities under pre-pandemic standards, though the governor kept in place the mask mandate and the USVI Travel Portal for now.
Mr. Bryan, in responding to a question from the Consortium concerning why he kept in place the indoor mask mandate even after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new guidelines on Friday, responded, "Because the CDC has been wrong before. Right before Delta they pulled back a lot of the restrictions and a lot of states did too, and they paid the price heavily." The governor further stated that a lot of Virgin Islanders are immunocompromised and the territory does not have the resources to meet this challenge. "And thirdly because there are a lot of people in our community who are literally terrified about Covid," he said, adding that the restrictions need to be transitioned out while "respecting those people's feelings, and giving them a little bit of security until we're in a state where we feel like we could manage it," he said.
Mr. Bryan said the administration would revisit the masking issue in 2-3 weeks.
Below, the changes announced today that took effect Feb. 28, 2022:
Gym and Wellness Facilities, Salons and Barbershops
Elsewhere, Governor Bryan said visitations to nursing homes are now allowed with a negative Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours, or with proof of vaccination. "If you were trying to visit before, we had a complete ban of visitations, so now" with a test taken within 72 hours you can go in, the governor said.
Mr. Bryan also made known that the moratorium on evictions has been lifted, though if you're part of the Emergency Home Repair Program, or ERAP, the moratorium remains in place.
"So if you have an application into ERAP, your landlord can't evict you. However, if that application is resolved, or they're evicting you for a reason other than rent, they can evict you," Mr. Bryan said, explaining that tenants must comply with other rules established in their lease agreement.
Additionally, "there is no longer a freeze on the increase of rent," the governor made known.
Beginning March 1, government employees with Covid virtual work agreements will have to report to work at their respective offices during normal business hours. This order does not affect individuals with remote work agreements unrelated to Covid-19. "Whether they work remotely or they may have some issue with the building that they're working in, those are fine but everybody else back to work," the governor said.
Mr. Bryan said the protocol changes announced today makes room for the territory's public schools to return to full in-person learning beginning March 14. The Consortium sought clarity from the governor, and he said currently all students are not in school everyday. "They have some days in, some days out; it's a staggered schedule," however "everybody will be at school one time. That's what we're talking about." The governor said the V.I. Dept. of Education will have more details.
Mr. Bryan praised the public, most of whom he said followed the rules aimed at mitigating the spread of Covid-19.
"I know that moving forward we'll be okay largely because of all of you out there — the vast majority of you at least — are doing the responsible thing," he said, adding that it was an honor to have led the territory through the darkest days of the pandemic.
The governor will also soon end the weekly Covid-19 press briefings, and he said the administration had its last official Covid meeting call last week. Keen to how quickly things could change, Mr. Bryan followed those comments swiftly with "hopefully, knock on wood." He then recalled having the Covid meetings everyday, then twice a week. "Now we're just getting updates from the Dept. of Health and other departments," he said.
It's been two years since the pandemic impacted the USVI and the world, beginning in March 2020, and Mr. Bryan sees his work to ease the burden it has caused residents continuing.
"It's been a rough two years, and I know a lot of people will be suffering from the fallout of Covid for years to come — whether physically, mentally and certainly financially," he said. "So we're doing our best to try and strengthen the community with the tools that they need..."