A six-day, 24-hour lockdown of the territory began Friday night after officials announced the first two confirmed cases of COVID- 19 in the territory, but even with an additional two-week curfew in place now, more may need to be done.
“Six or ten days or two weeks doesn’t really do anything,” said Dr. Howard Forman, a public health professor at Yale University. “In general, I would think that you need a minimum of six weeks to get a handle on this, and then you can start to consider relieving some of the pressure.”
After those six weeks, the government could consider allowing people to go out to work while limiting groups to no more than two people, he said.
“You have to do things in a very stepwise manner,” he added. “Nothing can work effectively if you’re doing it for a short time.”
Mr. Forman also believes that the territory’s three confirmed cases of COVID-19 suggest that there could be as many as 100 infected people in the territory who are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms.
“I think the problem with having a [short-term] break is that during that break people cross-contaminate,” Mr. Forman said. “You just completely undermine all the effort you made.”
The Virgin Islands first began “lockdown” measures mid-March when it banned all cruise ships from entering the territory until mid-April. But it wasn’t until Wednesday night of last week that officials announced that a six-day lockdown starting on Friday would prohibit access to grocery stores, pharmacies and other essential businesses.
The move was unusual: Though other countries and territories around the world have been implementing curfews, few have closed essential businesses like grocery stores.
The VI government’s announcement also caused crowds to descend on grocery stores and other businesses last Thursday and Friday at a time when health officials were ramping up calls for “social distancing” measures.
Similar situations have happened yesterday and are happening today as shoppers try to fill their homes with two-weeks worth of supplies, with crowds descending on stores in the early hours of the morning.
Alred Frett, the chairman of the B&F Medical Complex, said such incidents are troubling.
“Having an uncontrollable rush on providers will further defeat the purpose,” he wrote in an email, adding that denying people “food, medicine and exercise by locking them indoors does no good.”
A better idea, Mr. Frett said, is to make preparations and ensure the health of all residents, perhaps by asking supermarkets and pharmacies to prepare sustenance packages to distribute, thereby reducing social contact. However, he added, allowances need to be made.
Officials announced a two-week curfew on Tuesday evening and on Wednesday night, gave details about allowances for essential business like grocery shopping, banking, and pharmacies on Wednesday night.
But has the territory done enough?
“I am concerned that it is getting much too late and mere following [others] will not let us get ahead of the virus,” Mr. Frett said.
Moving forward, Mr. Forman advised that the territory work to avoid overwhelming health systems, such as COVID- 19 testing, patient beds, and intensive care unit capacity. The ICU capacity, he added, is particularly important.
Recently, Governor Gus Jaspert confirmed that 480 test kits are on their way from the UK. On Friday, Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone said that rapid test kits would be available to the territory soon, but he also noted that many countries across the globe do not have enough equipment to handle the outbreak.
“The only way that we are going to have enough equipment is for us to need none of them,” he said. “The only way to obtain that objective is to practise the social distance protocols announced at the beginning of this campaign.”
Attempts to reach government officials from the Premier’s Office, the Ministry of Health and Social Development, and the Governor’s Office were unsuccessful.
Countries and cities abroad have also been implementing lockdowns, though the great majority allow residents access to essential businesses.
Several news outlets have reported that a town in Italy was able to eradicate the virus. Vo, with a population of 3,300 people, reported a 100 percent recovery rate, and effectively shut coronavirus out with two measures: a total lockdown and testing every single person.
The measures included a two-week strict lockdown that kept everyone at home and only allowed food and medicine into the town with authorisation, Al Jazeera reported.
Doctors in the city said they began by identifying carriers and isolating them. They also said that wide-ranging testing is crucial, and should include asymptomatic people as well as those experiencing symptoms.
In other places, health officials have been encouraging mass-isolation measures. Milan, Italy, has begun seizing hotels to isolate patients with mild symptoms. The first one, with 306 rooms, will be ready this week, Bloomberg reported.
A group of Chinese experts who travelled to Italy to advise officials recommended the mass quarantining of coronavirus patients with mild symptoms instead of letting them isolate at home.
Doctors in Wuhan, China, made the error of admitting ill patients to hospitals while recommending those with mild symptoms stay at home to reduce the strain on an overburdened healthcare system, according to Bloomberg News.
Researchers now know that people with mild symptoms who were told to stay at home often infected their family members and others in their household, resulting in cluster infections. Wuhan began quarantining mild cases in makeshift hospitals in early February, which helped slow the spread of the virus.
In the United States, 23 states have implemented some version of a stay-at-home mandate, though President Donald Trump recently decided against a quarantine order for the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Essential stores remain open and residents are able to access items like medicine and groceries.
The Centers for Disease Control issued a travel advisory for 14 days for the area. New York has the most cases in America with 52,318 confirmed and 728 deaths.
In Spain, after a two-week nationwide lockdown of restaurants, bars, cafes and cinemas, officials ordered non-essential workers to remain home.
The country recorded its deadliest day on Tuesday, with 849 deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities to 8,189 in the country, where 94,417 tested positive — more than China’s 82,240. Spain’s state of emergency allows citizens only to go out to buy food, seek medical care, for emergencies, or to work in essential industries.
This week, Japan banned all travelers from the US, China, South Korea and most of Europe. It is also subjecting all travelers to a 14-day self-quarantine. The country has had 1,800 con- firmed cases with 55 deaths. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering a three-week state of emergency which would have residents remain home except to shop for food and receive medical care.