The day after a mourner with Covid-19 attended a Saturday funeral in Sea Cows Bay, health officials asked other attendees to self-isolate and get tested as active cases in the territory spiked to nine from zero as of the last announced count last Thursday.
However, leaders remained tight-lipped about why the Covid-positive mourner was out in the community in the first place, and they have not confirmed or denied online news reports suggesting that the person had been released from quarantine last Thursday after testing negative.
In an online question-and-answer session streamed on Monday, health officials declined to provide any further information about the funeral-goer’s situation.
“Let me say that we are not going to discuss the details of anybody’s medical situation on this programme, and not in any other moment,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Irad Potter said in response to a related question.
Subsequent attempts to reach Dr. Potter and Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone were unsuccessful.
In a statement released Sunday, the ministry said anyone who attended the funeral should isolate for 10 days and contact the Public Health Unit at 852-7650 to schedule
a free test.
Meanwhile, Davis Funeral Home, which conducted the funeral at the Sea Cows Bay Methodist Church, closed on Tuesday until further notice, and announced in a Facebook post that staff are also isolating. The VI Methodist Circuit announced that it has cancelled all Holy Week services.
However, government indicated that people who have received vaccinations may not need to isolate, a directive that follows current guidance from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Persons who had their vaccine four weeks ago will not be required to quarantine, so please give this information to the public health officer, who will verify,” the statement read.
“The Ministry of Health strongly recommends that unvaccinated persons get their vaccine as soon as possible to prevent you from getting Covid-19 or seriously ill from Covid-19 if you are exposed to an infected person.”
During the Monday Q&A session, some commenters expressed confusion about this directive.
But Dr. Potter explained, “The rationale for this is that persons who have received vaccination shot, there is evidence in the scientific literature that there is prevention of transmission, that there is prevention of symptomatic Covid.”
Meanwhile, on Sunday, the number of active cases in the territory jumped to nine — up from zero as of last Thursday.
According to a graphic circulated by government, the cases were detected on day zero and day four screenings or via travel screenings, and one was mildly symptomatic. Six were on Tortola, two on Virgin Gorda and one on a vessel.
Only one of the cases was said to be linked to the Sea Cows Bay funeral.
The new cases underscored health officials’ increasingly urgent push to address vaccine hesitancy in the territory as the vaccine rate has slowed in recent weeks.
From vaccinating as many as 500 a day earlier in the rollout, officials administered just over 500 additional vaccines over the 12-day period between March 17 and Monday.
This brought the total number of vaccinations administered to 7,259, around 20 percent of the population.
Mr. Malone has repeatedly stressed that reaching to a 70 percent vaccination level will be key to easing quarantine restrictions, and thus jump-starting the tourism economy.
In a statement released Friday, he acknowledged that attitudes toward the vaccine tend to differ between Virgin Islanders and expatriates.
“BVI residents of other nationalities” have chosen to be vaccinated in “large percentages,” he said. “Our local population have been rather hesitant, and only a small percentage has agreed and has been vaccinated.”
The situation could turn urgent soon, he said, given that the two batches of the AstraZeneca vaccines the VI has already received from the UK — a total of 20,000 doses — are set to expire on May 31 and June 30.
“Nations around the world are searching and crying out for adequate supply of vaccine and can find no answers,” he said. “A community outreach committee has been formed and has been purposed to educate and inform.”
The efficacy of the vaccine has been shown to be as high as 75 percent in the short term. The vaccination programme is now open to all adult residents regardless of priority level, and there is now an additional venue —Therapy Works in the Cyril B. Romney Tortola Pier Park — at which residents can get jabbed, according to the minister.
To reduce wait times, everyone is still urged to register at http://ministryofhealth.gov.vg/vaccines/vaccine-registration/.