Making a plea for residents to avoid large public gatherings on local beaches during the upcoming Independence Day weekend and to wear their masks if they do celebrate, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. said the community should be “concerned” about the uptick in COVID-19 cases locally and explained the only way to temper the numbers is to exercise some measure of “self-control to keep each other safe.”
The jump amounts to about 20 percent over the past four weeks – including three new cases announced Monday night for a total positive count of 84 – and Bryan explained during Monday’s weekly press briefing that there is a 50 percent split in new cases between food service workers and residents traveling back home.
While saying several times Monday there’s a real possibility bars and restaurants will be shut down again, Bryan said the “only thing” that has kept him from doing so – or from closing beaches this weekend – is that the number of active cases is limited at this point and that a local “no mask, no service policy” remains in place.
Still, Bryan said he would be “disingenuous” if he didn’t tell residents they should be concerned, particularly since there are individuals testing positive that don’t know how they got the virus, or, according to Territorial Epidemiologist Dr. Esther Ellis, that are asymptomatic.
In terms of the Fourth of July, that could mean greater exposure to the virus, with Ellis saying that beach and other celebrations could easily turn into “super spreader” events that bring the territory closer to what is being experienced on the mainland.
According to Bryan, at least eight states seeing dramatic increases have no masking policy in place and are exceeding their hospital bed capacity, essentially going “right back to where they started” in terms of exposure and response.
“The most alarming factor for us here is that there are no policies that require individuals to wear masks when social distancing isn’t possible, and individuals not following Centers for Disease Control and local health guidelines are just paving the way for chaos,” Bryan said.
While the governor added that he is trying to walk the line between public safety and keeping the economy from collapsing, he made it clear that tighter restrictions are imminent if the new cases this month result in more new ones come July.
“Mask up” was Bryan’s tagline of the day as he explained to residents what would keep that from happening, particularly when dining out. The surge in cases among food service workers is the result of them being in an environment where customers don’t have to wear masks while eating or drinking, and Bryan said the danger increases on both sides when social distancing is also cut down. The governor suggested that residents practice putting their mask on in the car beforehand and then again before leaving a bar or restaurant and keeping them on while walking through parking lots or going to the bathroom.
Most importantly, masks should cover both the mouth and nose and should not be taken off when talking to others who are not wearing masks, he said.
“The virus is very much alive and in our community, and the place where you will get it is anywhere you don’t have your mask on and you see others without their mask,” Bryan added.