Monday, June 4th, 2020 Coronavirus update

St. John got lucky and only had 2 confirmed cases on the island. St. Thomas and St. Croix had more cases, the total in the territory was 71, there are 8 active cases and 2 tests pending. The governor went ahead and opened the island back for visitors June 1st and we had our first paddleboard delivery today. We modified our business to keep everyone safe, read the details here.

It has been quiet on the island without tourists, check out this photo of empty Trunk Bay this Sunday.

Is it safe to come back to St. John and are visitors welcomed?

There are certainly mixed opinions about this. Of most income comes from tourism and people need to go back to work and earn a living (the stimulus checks, unemployment have been slow to arrive, or have not arrived at all same for PPP and SBA loans).

But of course another outbreak is likely once the island is back open and people are afraid of that, especially should the peak clash with a hurricane (it is supposed to be a bad hurricane season and we already had 3 named storms in the Atlantic). Statistically, roughly one in 165 visitors will unknowingly have the virus. From what we heard through the grapevine the flights have been quite full this week which is a little scary. Many airlines have cancelled their flights to St. Thomas so those that are still flying (mostly American and Delta flies FRI-SUN) are quite full. A lot of people had their direct flights changed to multiple leg flights. While adults may be able to protect themselves well while travelling with hand sanitizer, masks etc. I would personally be worried especially when flying with kids.

Most St. John activities like at the beach, pool, snorkeling (bring your own gear!), paddleboarding, swimming, hiking are super safe. Inside you have to wear masks in shops and businesses except for restaurants and bars, where only the staff has to wear masks. Restaurants are supposed to only fill to half of fire marshall approved capacity and space out seats at bars but if you know the size of St. John restaurants that is not an easy thing to so we will see how that works out. There also is a challenge of staying profitable with less customers.

Nevertheless a lot of bars and restaurants are back open and almost all of them offer take out options. There are also grocery delivery services for example from Starfish market or via Landlubber.

Among the restaurants open for in house dining are High Tide, Shambles, Tap and Still, Beach Bar, Greengo’s, Longboard, Cafe Roma, Dave and Jerry’s island Steak House, Skinny Legs, Lime In, Morgan’s Mango, La Tapa.

And here are some places that decided to wait with: St. John Spice, The Terrace, 18’64 is take out only, Aqua Bistro, Joe’s Rum Hut, Extra Virgin, Coral Bay Oasis, 

Some people who asked in various facebook groups if they should come back have been bashed. It is a difficult topic. Some feel your need for a vacation ranks lower than their need to keep their family safe. Yes one could argue that locals that don’t feel safe should stay home but it’s not that easy oftentimes blended families live in close proximity so if the young daughter works in hospitality she will infect her grandmother who lives under the same roof. The governor thinks another outbreak with re-opening is inevitable but thinks they are prepared to contain it with screening measures and contact tracing we will see how well that works. Another factor is that the government only has 8 million $ cash on hand to play ongoing bills and salaries so that certainly played into the decision.

Overall the words are always meaner on facebook than in person and the people spending their days behind trolling facebook with nasty comments are unlikely to encounter you in person on the island. Personally I feel different about repeat customers who know the island and are honoring an already booked summer vacation while taking every possible precaution vs. opportunistic last minute covid19 getaway bookers. I believe that repeat guests who are coming this summer are familiar with the island particulars and vulnerabilities and will have carefully assessed the the pros and cons and risks. 

Sunday, March 22, 2020 Coronavirus update

wow this has been a whirlwind week. We are doing ok, so far 6 cases in the territory with about 40 results pending.

Most restaurants and bars as well as shops have announced their closure to protect their staff and following the 10 person rule. 
Yesterday evening, the governor released an update via youtube which you can watch here. 

In line with the governor’s request for all non-essential businesses to seize all in-person business we will not be conducting any paddleboard rentals or lessons until further notice

The key points are:

Guidelines:

  • Social and distancing at all times, 6 feet
  • Stay at home policy: Stay at home as much as possible
  • “Its ok to take a walk, it’s ok to take a drive but please refrain from congregating”
  • No camping for Easter
  • “Do not go to parties, bbq, picnics, enjoy the beach but stay away from people”

Effective Monday 23rd:

  • All bars will be closed
  • Restaurants take out only no inhouse dining
  • Taxi capacity cut down in half
  • Monitoring the ferries – meet with operators Monday

Effective Wednesday 25rd:

  • Stay at home order “not a curfew”
  • Keep as much people off the street as possible
  • No hotel, timeshare, airbnb allowed to accept new guest except government or medical personal
  • International message we want to send: “if you are coming to the Virgin Islands you will not have anywhere to stay for the next 30 days”
  • “Stay at home is not a curfew only PR has curfew. We are not imposing curfew. We are imposing stay at home”. This does not cover essential business: groceries, pet supplies, hardware stores, restaurants, food processing, gas stations, auto supply stores, car dealerships, banks and credit unions, garden stores, laundry services, building supplies are exempt as long as they keep customer rates under 10.
  • Further exempt are plumbers, electricians, exterminators, custodial services, handyman, funeral services, hvac installers and carpenters, anybody who deals with construction. Also exempt: Office supplies, shipping, delivery services, airlines, public transport, professional services, legal, accounting, places that provide shelters,

Thursday, March 19, 2020 Coronavirus update

More businesses (e.g. Banana Deck, Dog House Pub, Greengo’s, Pizza Bar in Paradise) have announced their closures and St. John Hardware is limiting hours to give staff time to rest and clean.

NPS Visitor Center and FVINP are closed as are the concessions at Trunk Bay and the guided Reef Bay Trail Hike.

Pizza Pi, the pizza boat announced closure as of tomorrow.

Cliff Notes from Governor’s Press Conference at 1pm today: 

  • 3 confirmed cases in usvi, 21 tests pending
  • contact tracing underway
  • as of Saturday 6am max 10 people also for bars & restaurants excempt are large stores like home depot plaza extra etc that can ensure spacing
  • plaza extra special 7-10am shopping time for seniors
  • funerals are exempt
  • no camping on public beaches
  • effective monday government services limited to essential services
  • 60 day extension on all license renewals (car, drivers license, business license)
  • there are still 1500 visitors in territory and no intention of closing airport

 

TUESDAY, March 17, 2020 Coronavirus update

2nd confirmed case in the territory, while the first was St. Croix, the second is said to be in the St. Thomas/St. John district. 17 test are still pending. Again, the actual rate is probably much higher. Governor has closed schools starting tomorrow, cancelled St. Thomas carvinal and advised to only use the St. John – St. Thomas ferry for essential travel.

People were in and out of Pricesmart St. Thomas within 20minutes today and desinfecting products were stocked.

St. Thomas: Bolongo Bay Resort and Wyndham are closing until further notice.

St. John: Lime Out and Lime in were the first to announce their closure this morning, Lovango Rum Bar cancelled their grand opening, a little later in the day Soggy Dollar Bar, BVI as well as Skinny Legs and Extra Virgin announced their closure too

BVI: the BVI are closing their boarders to anyone but local residents, belongers and work permit holders on Thursday, March 19th for at least a month. No more BVI charters, sorry. Soggy Dollar Bar is closing as well.

More information on local closures here:

White house recommends avoiding crowds of more than 10 people and avoiding non-essential travel. It seems to be the concensus that staying home is the right thing to do. We had 5 cancellations in the last 24 hours.

As of today most St. John Bars and Restaurants are still open but many are promoting the take out option. People can still go to the beach, a curfew like in Puerto Rico is a possibility but our governor does not seem to be in the “err on the side of caution” camp, but maybe that is the way to achieve compliance, if he had cancelled carnival too early there would have been outrage.

SUNDAY, March 15, 2020

Good morning from sunny St. John, here is the latest update in light of the Corona Virus. We are not a news outlet and we cannot constantly update this article with new developments, this is a status report from Sunday, March 15th.

As of this morning it is still pretty much business as usual on St. John, the grocery stores are stocked (including toilet paper – photos taken this morning) with no crazy lines and the bars and restaurants are open. Some crowded scenes at Cost U Less St. Thomas have been reported yesterday however. If you are coming over on the car barge, we recommend skipping the STT grocery stop to avoid the craziness and potential exposure to virus as well.

Coronavirus in the USVI

so far there is one confirmed case in the territory that is rumored to be on St. Croix. Reports about a death on CNN are false. It is of course likely that the actual number of cases is much higher, as there is no free health care or health insurance, people usually try to battle it out at home and locals are very good at beating illness with rest and natural remedies. So there is a chance that unknowingly some herd immunity has been built especially on St. Thomas which has been exposed to all the cruise ship travel. There is hope heat and the sun and clean air may potentially inhibit a rapid spread in the territory just like flu season is typical in the winter months. UV-light is a natural disinfectant and “open air treatment” was an acknowledged form of medical treatment for influenza during the 1918 Influenza Pandemic before antibiotics were available. Read all about it here

Of course by no means are we safe from the virus here and a potential outbreak will be catastrophic with the limited health care facilities available. There are 120 hospital beds on St. Thomas and 8 in the ICU for 50.000+ inhabitants and maybe 100.000 visitors per month.

Puerto Rico

The governor of Puerto Rico (which has 4 confirmed and 17 suspected cases)  has just ordered a curfew from 9pm to 5am until March 30th. There is a chance this will happen here too as a preventive measure to stop the spread of the virus. Hopefully people will still be allowed to go to beaches. Source: 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/03/15/coronavirus-latest-news/#link-BBGT3QI5HJFS7IDCOPNFCGR6II

BVI Trips and the Coronavirus

As of today, March 15th USVI boats can still enter the BVI however only at Tortola Westend (no more check-in on Jost). Visitors have to fill out the health questionnaire below and depending on answers may be declined entry or asked to quarantine. We also expect longer wait times at customs. For charters with rockhoppin.com of course you can change your destination to the 3/4 St. John or half day or full day and stay local at no costs. For food options we have Pizza Pi, the pizza boat, Lime out which has re-opened at Coral Bay Harbor and the new Zozo’s H20 on Lovango.

http://www.rockhoppin.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/PERSONAL-HEALTH-DECLARATION-FORM1.pdf-·-version-1.pdf

On Thursday, March 19th the BVI are closing their borders for at least a month, so no more BVI charters, sorry

Should I cancel my trip to St. John, USVI in light of the Corona Virus?

This is a difficult question and here is my personal opinion. Of course, everybody has to evaluate the pros and cons based on their own circumstances.

As a local business owner who makes 100% of income from tourism and who has not left the island since the hurricanes I wish the ports and airports would be closed to spare our little island the exposure to this virus and to spare the visitors to make this hard decision. I appreciate visitors especially from high risk states or with previous travel or exposure to at risk regions / persons cancelling their trip to spare St. John but realistically the spot might be taken by last minute opportunists (yeah no school, cheap flights…). so those that have not booked yet, please think twice! Even healthy people can unknowingly transmit the virus. Personally I think the economic loss from less tourism is not as bad as the potentially catastrophic effect of a major outbreak here.

Those that have booked and have no choice of rescheduling, the most responsible thing is to self-quarantine at home for 2 weeks before travel and take every possible precaution to not get infected on the way over…..

We will issue a full refund if you decide to cancel but also appreciate customers changing to a random date in the future to ease the financial burden.

People with pre-existing medical conditions (heart/lung disease, auto-immune disease etc.) that might require hospitalization in case of infection, please avoid travel here, the health care is difficult without an outbreak already. Insurance that will air-lift you to the mainland in case of an emergency is always a good idea when travelling here no matter how young and healthy you are.

Being stuck on this island due to halt in air travel or airlines cancelling flights because they are not full/profitable or their crews are sick is also a possibility, maybe not a bad thing unless your presence is required at home or you need medical attention. Getting off island post hurricane was very very difficult and that was with the mainland fully functioning.

Another risk is that curfews might be issued so you would not be allowed to leave villa/hotel at night like it is currently in Puerto Rico, hopefully they will still allow beach visits during day.

This is a developing topic, so always check with CDC website for latest travel advisories.

Questions to help you come to a decision.

  1. Is there any chance I could be bringing the virus to the USVI
  2. Do I have insurance / financial resources to be airlifted to mainland in case of medical emergency (which can be completely unrelated to Covid-19) – healthcare here is fragile without a pandemic
  3. Do I have the flexibility / financial resources / stamina to stay on the island longer than planned (in case air travel is halted, airlines cancel flights or go bankrupt) ?

Can I still rent paddleboards?

We are conducting business as usual for now for paddleboards but have suspended snorkel gear rentals. We don’t think these are times to share breathing equipment, if you would like to snorkel we recommend bringing / purchasing your own equipment for example at Low Key, Chelsea Drug Store or Kmart St. Thomas.

We will be wiping down the other gear after and before each rental. It is a good idea if you leave the gear out in the sun to dry before loading it into the car – UV light kills germs but they will strive in a moist environment

Change of travel plans? You can cancel or reschedule your paddleboard rental free of charge the deposit will be refunded upon request but we ask you to consider letting it keep us for a future rental to ease the financial burden on our small business.

Lessons

we are still conducting lessons but will avoid touch contacts wherever possible. If you are running a fever, have a dry cough or have been in contact with at risk persons or regions, please be responsible and cancel your lesson and any other activities with close contact.

How can we help St. John?

Some people might decide to still visit to support their favorite island to support local businesses. Other ways to help are buying gift certificates at any shop or restaurant or to order gifts/souvenirs online. You can book a charter for a random day in the future www.rockhoppin.com/bookme (you can reschedule free or charge once you know your new travel dates) or pay the 100$ deposit for a future paddleboard rentat at sup-stjohn.com here: www.sup-stjohn.com/pay/

You were happy with your charter or paddleboard rental with us? Head over to tripadvisor and leave a nice review here!

To end on a positive note

St. John is resilient, we survived Irma and Maria and we will survive this. Maybe something good will come out of it, maybe in return our planet gets a break from C02 emission and pollution so maybe we slow climate change and get a hurricane season that is less devastating. Look at the before and after photo from China: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/03/04/811019032/why-chinas-air-has-been-cleaner-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak?fbclid=IwAR3lOKKbYwAnVUDN_dJ1XNbP7OTIXB003pOKhOy8q2UQlqnYl9PASz_iOp0