During a press conference last Thursday morning, Governor Gus Jaspert urged residents to continue wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining safe distances in order to help prevent a surge of Covid-19 cases. (Photo: DANA KAMPA)

Five days before government announced Tuesday that there are no more known active cases of Covid-19 in the territory, Governor Gus Jaspert called on Virgin Islands residents to remain vigilant in preventing a potential outbreak.

This week saw the extension of public beach hours from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and a green light for some restaurants to offer dine-in options, as long as customers stay six feet apart. An evening curfew remains in effect from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily.

However, the internal reopening hasn’t been flawless, the governor conceded during a press conference last Thursday at the Department of Disaster Management.

“We also know that there are areas where safe distancing isn’t happening, where people aren’t always complying,” the governor said. “We need everybody to deal with this together. We can’t just do this through enforcement.”

Though the recent round-the-clock lockdown came with its own challenges, Mr. Jaspert said now is a crucial point in the territory’s response to Covid-19. The rules about what social activity is allowed are harder to define, he explained, but there is still the potential for a larger outbreak in the community.

“Most likely for the next six months — maybe even longer, we don’t know, but hopefully shorter if a vaccine comes — we’ve got to mentally think, ‘How do we stay happy, positive, socially stable, supportive to our families, supportive to our businesses, supportive to our community, when we have to fundamentally change our way of life?’” he said.

Mental health

In response to a question about what is being done to account for community members’ mental health amid the stresses of the pandemic and ensuing financial burdens, Mr. Jaspert acknowledged that countries around the world are grappling with such issues.

“All of us are affected in different ways by the impact of this,” he said. “Even if we just reflect back a couple months ago, if we had said you may be locked in your house for a whole 24 hours, can you imagine what we would have thought? … Mentally, the whole basis of how we see our freedoms, our ways of life, our social networks, have changed — have changed dramatically.”

He said health experts, helmed by Chief Medical Officer Dr. Irad Potter, are working to balance the community’s physical and mental health. By gradually easing social restrictions in the territory, he said, leaders have a better handle on how to restore some degree of normalcy without rushing into reopening and potentially prompting a spike in cases in the community.

“What we don’t want to do is give false hope,” Mr. Jaspert said.

The governor encouraged community members to extend one another a little extra kindness wherever possible as they collectively work to get through these challenges.