The Territory entered the 2020 hurricane season on high alert, facing the forecast of an active season paired with the COVID-19 pandemic. At Love City Strong, we began modifying and updating our preparedness and response plans early on, reaching out to our partners at Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA), the Virgin Islands Department of Health (VIDOH), the Virgin Islands Department of Human Services, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for guidance and best practices for responding to a disaster during a global health crisis. Thanks to our work responding to the pandemic on St. John, our team was already used to wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and adhering to social distancing protocols. We modified our annual community outreach programs, becoming less reliant on public events and leveraging public and private partnerships in order to successfully respond to two significant weather events while keeping residents informed. Tropical Storm Isaias impacted the Territory on July 29th, and our response lasted from July 25th through July 30th. This large system moved quickly, but did not turn into a tropical storm until it passed just south of St Croix. Our team remained on alert and executed pre- and post-storm wellness checks in the community, shifting from at-home visits to conducting them entirely over the phone. We assisted residents with downed trees and minor storm debris on their property, and brought resources like solar powered lights to those experiencing power loss. A wave of severe weather associated with Tropical Storm Laura impacted the Territory in the early morning hours of Saturday, August 21st. Once again, what was expected to be a significant rain event stayed to our south, resulting in a limited impact. Within 24 hours of the forecast impact, we knew that the path would keep Laura from being much of a threat to the USVI, but our team continued to execute pre- storm wellness checks, and helped several residents with boarding up and clearing their property. This hurricane season saw us working closely with VITEMA and our other government partners, as well as our sister nonprofits affiliated with Virgin Islands Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VI VOAD), to keep St. John prepared. Between storms this year, we delivered sandbags to over 100 households, and handed out blue roofing via a drive-through system alongside our partners. Both of these events would normally be done in the form of large public gatherings, but we were able to execute them successfully while still observing social distancing and PPE use. The 2020 hurricane season taught us much about the unpredictable nature of disaster preparedness, and emphasized the complex relationship between multiple disasters that share the same impact window. I am proud of the work our team has done this year, in the face of so many challenges. As the season comes to a close, we look forward to further refining our deployment plans, expanding our preparedness and resilience programming, and serving the community in the years to come.
Almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s understandable that many are starting to develop a sense of emotional burnout that some are calling “covid fatigue.” The sense of a never ending struggle against an invisible threat may cause people to let their guard down. After all, it can feel wrong to continue to rearrange your life and practice all of these new habits if your risk seems nonexistent. However, this behavior is precisely what leads to surges in COVID-19 cases. As cases begin to increase globally, particularly in the United States, anecdotal evidence suggests that “covid fatigue” is playing a major part. People are tired of not seeing their loved ones, and staying socially distant, and making dramatic shifts in how they interact with the world. What’s troubling is that this societal shift is about to converge with the holiday season; a time when people around the world come together with loved ones and celebrate long standing traditions with their communities. These celebrations usually occur indoors, in large groups, and almost always involve older members of one’s extended family or community. Given that most of us have not seen our loved ones this year due to the pandemic, it can be tempting to completely relax our habits for the holidays and to act as though we live in a world free of risk. The sense of comfort and nostalgia that the holidays give us seem like the perfect solution to our pandemic woes. Unfortunately, the traditions that many of us crave are exactly the kinds of scenarios that put us and others at risk. It is more important than ever that we begin to workshop creative solutions and start new traditions in order to celebrate the holidays during the pandemic. Whether gathering in smaller groups with immediate members of your household only, taking more time off of work or school to allow for adequate quarantine on either side of holiday travel, or making celebrations entirely virtual, any amount of mitigation will be better than none. Here are a few key questions to consider when making holiday plans this year:
- What risk are you placing on others (particularly seniors or those who are immunocompromised) with the celebrations that you are planning?
- How can you modify your normal plans to allow for social distancing, or even to have events outdoors rather than indoors?
- For those traveling, what is the status of the virus in your community, and the community that you’re traveling to? Is it fair to put a strain on another community’s healthcare system, or put loved ones in another community at risk, for the sake of not celebrating the holidays in your own community?
- Do you have the resources and time to get tested and self-isolate before celebrating the holidays with people you do not live with?
- Should you set boundaries and expectations with others (and avoid those awkward conversations about why you won’t be hugging anyone this year) ahead of time?
Healthcare professionals around the globe are gearing up to fight two deadly threats simultaneously: COVID-19 and the flu. Seasonal flu viruses are dynamic, and their health risks and severity vary year to year. However, the flu virus is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. With high risk populations already ravaged by COVID-19 this year, it is more important than ever that as many people get vaccinated for the flu as possible. Even for those who are young, healthy, and have no preexisting conditions, getting a flu vaccine is important. By getting vaccinated, we prevent ourselves from becoming vectors of disease and causing undue harm to others. The CDC estimates that flu vaccinations in the U.S. reduce the risk of illness for 40-60% of the overall population; the more people who vaccinate in a community, the more that a community is protected. While it is true that there is overlap between mitigation measures which help prevent the transmission of COVID-19 and influenza (washing hands frequently, sanitizing surfaces, wearing a mask, and staying away from others if you feel sick), practicing these habits may not be enough to help healthcare providers combat two viruses simultaneously during the 2020/2021 flu season. Although last year’s final flu season numbers are not yet available, preliminary CDC data shows that between 39 and 56 million Americans contracted the flu last year, with over 400 thousand hospitalizations nation-wide. With COVID-19 pushing PPE supplies and hospital capacity to the breaking point, a serious flu season could cause local healthcare systems to utterly collapse. Limiting the burden on our healthcare systems and healthcare workers in any way that we can is critical. During this time of uncertainty, it is incumbent on each of us to do our part to protect our communities. Think of getting your flu shot not as a chore, but as an act of civic responsibility. Flu vaccinations are a simple action that has the potential to save lives, support our healthcare workers, and make a real difference. Visit www.GetMyFluShot.org to learn more. For a partial list of vaccination providers in your area, click here.
The Caribbean region is at risk to a variety of natural disasters, from hurricanes to tsunamis to severe droughts and heat waves. However, there is one natural disaster that is often overlooked in preparedness conversations, yet has the potential to be the most catastrophic. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are located at an active plate boundary between the North American plate and the northeast corner of the Caribbean plate. Plate movements have caused large magnitude earthquakes and devastating tsunamis over the years, and this has certainly been the case in 2020. Throughout January 2020, Puerto Rico was barraged by a swarm of quakes, 11 of which were a magnitude of 5 or greater. The resulting loss of life, devastation to infrastructure, and long term economic impacts cannot be overstated. As with any natural disaster, the work of community organizations to prepare and respond must also be augmented by citizen preparedness. After all, the more prepared that the average individual is, the more time that community organizations can spend helping those disaster survivors who need it the most. To that end, this year we encourage everyone to participate in the International Great Shake Out event (www.ShakeOut.org) this week on Thursday, October 15th! Participation in this event can be as involved as visiting their website, registering, and uploading a video of you and your loved ones performing an earthquake safety drill; or as simple as making the time to talk about earthquake preparedness with those in your household. The important thing is recognizing that earthquakes pose a serious threat, and incorporating preparedness for earthquakes into your regular readiness activities as a household or business. Even if you do not participate in the Great Shake Out itself, take the time to learn about earthquakes, consider what effects they may have on your surroundings, and make a plan to keep yourself safe both during and after a quake. As with any natural disaster, the only “right time” to prepare is as soon and as often as possible!
In December 2019, the novel coronavirus changed lives on a global scale. At Love City Strong we have made every effort to react as quickly as possible; pivoting from what we had originally planned for 2020 to make addressing the issues caused by COVID-19 our number one priority. COVID-19 Response Timeline On March 6th, we began purchasing bulk supplies of PPE and sanitation products to give to healthcare professionals, first responders, and essential workers on St. John in anticipation of the global shortage. Our distribution of these supplies occurred throughout the month of March, a full two months before the national stockpile supplies arrived in the Virgin Islands. On March 10th, we began to distribute COVID-19 informational flyers in English and in Spanish across the island. These flyers were vetted by the Virgin Islands Department of Health and the CDC, and featured all of the information known about COVID-19 at that time. Over 500 flyers were distributed within 72 hours. On March 13th, one day before the first case of COVID-19 in the Virgin Islands was announced by territory healthcare officials, we made the decision to close our office to the public and either suspend or greatly modify our programs in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Our teams modified their procedures to either limit or cease in-home visits with our clients and increased regular sanitation of their work vehicles and supplies. We also encouraged all employees to work from home rather than in our office. As of August, these practices remain in place. On April 13th, we began partnering with World Central Kitchen to deliver hot and cold meals to seniors, families with children, and individuals with a disability or chronic health condition. We also delivered meals to healthcare workers and first responders every other week in addition to our household deliveries. Our relationships with the small business community were able to make this program more robust and efficient—We hired St. John Brewers to increase meal preparation and storage capacity, and Rock n’ Rolla Charters to provide both additional transportation for our team and a Spanish translator. Our Go Team delivered over 500 meals and snack packs directly to over 200 different households every single week for three months. In May, the CDC released new guidance regarding the importance of wearing masks in public. To encourage and normalize this practice, we launched a month-long social media campaign called “We Not Me.” During the campaign, we shared photos that were sent to us from people in the Virgin Islands and around the world wearing their masks. Each photo was accompanied by a short testimonial from that person with their specific reasons for taking this precaution seriously. You can view the entries in this campaign on our Instagram account by clicking the #WeNotMe story highlight. In June we partnered with St. John retailer Big Planet to provide free, reusable face masks to St. John residents and visitors. The first batch of masks were provided to households that we were delivering meals to, and to churches in Cruz Bay and Coral Bay. We then set up small buckets of masks at several different businesses across the island, where they are available to anyone in need. The free masks will be provided at these locations from June through the end of August, and thus far approximately 2,000 masks have been given away. Our Mission Moving Forward At LCS, it has always been our philosophy to prepare for the worst and hope for the best through all hazards, and this has served us well during this unprecedented time. Through the early and decisive actions of our team, we have been able to continue serving the community of St. John through both our existing programs and new, short-term initiatives while keeping ourselves and our clients safe. Wherever you are, we urge you to continue to be vigilant and responsible as COVID-19’s impact continues. This isn’t over. Whether you are young or old; healthy or high-risk, we must all continue to do our part to take extra care with our family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues.