U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Albert Bryan Jr. believes pre-departure testing at mainland U.S. airports as well as increased adherence to public health protocols would bolster the efficacy of efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 both locally and throughout the Caribbean.
Speaking during a Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) “Caribbean Tourism Fireworks” discussion hosted by Frank Comito, CEO and director general of the private sector hospitality association, Governor Bryan said mandatory preflight testing would make travel to the Caribbean healthier and easier.
Reporting on meetings held earlier this week with St. Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, the governor said they agreed on the need for the rollout of rapid test technology to protect Caribbean visitors and residents. The two leaders lamented the fact that COVID-19 has so far led to the deaths of more than 150,000 people in the United States alone, but effective, universal travel protocols have yet to be put in place to contain the pandemic.
The Territory’s chief executive said he welcomed conversations with other Caribbean heads of government to consider standardized public health protocols: “We have a real symbiotic relationship here in the Caribbean and it looks like we are going to work closer together to take care of Caribbean tourism,” he said.
Recent increases in community spread in the USVI are being attributed to asymptomatic Virgin Islanders who live and work abroad returning for family events and unknowingly infecting friends and family members in close-knit communities, particularly on St. Thomas. The Governor noted while the overwhelming majority of residents have been complying with the Territory’s pandemic protocols and guidelines, “familiarity lessens [adherence to] restrictions”, and he reported stronger communications tactics will be deployed to remind residents the pandemic “does not take prisoners”.
While a significant portion of the tourism sector has not fully reopened since the 2017 hurricanes, Governor Bryan noted the closures have given resorts time to upgrade, refurbish and refresh their properties. In fact, prior to the pandemic, the USVI’s tourism sector had been recovering well with hotel bookings and villa and charter rentals “going through the roof,” he reported.