This U.S. Destination Is Seeing Its Worst COVID Surge of the Pandemic

Cases are on the rise in this location as vaccinations lag behind almost every state.

Thanks to the rise of the Delta variant, it's hard to find a corner of the U.S. that isn't currently seeing COVID cases rise. The highly transmissible strain has brought the daily national average back up to levels not seen since the winter months. Unfortunately, this has led to some places seeing record-breaking numbers of new cases—including the U.S. Virgin Islands, which is currently experiencing its worst COVID surge since the pandemic began, The New York Times reports.

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According to data from the local Department of Health, COVID cases have been on the rise in the popular tourist destination for over a month, spiking from about 60 active cases at the beginning of July to 401 as of Aug. 13. This shatters the Virgin Islands' previous surge record of 295 that was seen almost exactly a year ago and places it within the 20 U.S. places with the highest reported cases per capita.

While new infections are reaching new heights, the local vaccination rate remains remarkably low. Federal data shows that just 37 percent of residents are fully vaccinated, placing the territory behind every state except Alabama and Mississippi.

In a telephone interview with The Times early last week, Richard Motta Jr., communications director for the territory's governor, Albert Bryan Jr., said that the surge had led to the highest number of hospitalizations at any time during the pandemic. He also specified that all severe cases and deaths in the territory were reported in unvaccinated patients and that the few reported breakthrough cases showed only minor symptoms.

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News of the record-breaking surge comes just weeks after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned against all unnecessary travel to the Virgin Islands. On Aug. 2, the agency placed the destination in its highest "Level 4: Avoid Travel" designation as cases there continued to rise.

The islands have maintained more public safety protocols in comparison to most states, however. Students recently returned to virtual classrooms to begin their school year. At the same time, indoor mask mandates, social distancing rules, and curfews on beaches and certain businesses remain in place throughout the territory.

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The push for increased vaccinations across the Virgin Islands has also picked up added urgency with the arrival of hurricane season, which runs through November. During a press conference on Aug. 10, President Joe Biden warned: "Everything is more complicated if you're not vaccinated and a hurricane or a natural disaster hits. If you wind up having to evacuate, if you wind up having to stay in a shelter, you don't want to add COVID-19 to the list of dangers that you're going to be confronting."

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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