Starting On June 22nd, the Virgin Islands is set to implement a CDC mandate, requiring bars and restaurants to use single-use plates and utensils to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
But it’s a mandate which has many people in the territory cringing, in fact one woman is doing all she can to stop it from happening.
“I think it’s outrageous, it doesn’t make sense to me why this is even a possibility, but it is, so now we’re fighting it,” said St. Thomas resident Taylor Cohn.
Cohn is an environmental advocate, she was baffled to hear the Virgin Islands is mandating establishments to use single-use materials, “It made me angry because we already went through banning straws and plastic grocery bags and for such small islands, our landfill is already full and I’m already picking up trash every day, and just the thought of there being double the amount of garbage and single-use products, it just made me angry they would even consider doing this,” said Cohn.
Cohn works at a local restaurant and in her spare time, spends a lot of time in the VI waters picking up trash, “I see it on a regular basis, I have bags I take with me when I go swimming and when I’m walking because I know I’m going to find trash, from what I’ve seen with my own eyes, it’s something that needs to be changed, I don’t think the island can handle more unnecessary trash.”
So Cohn went to the internet to take action, creating a petition on Change.org, calling on VI leaders to reconsider this mandate, “I hope they reconsider, I hope it opens up their eyes to this already being an issue without the mandate… Clearly they know it’s an issue and I hope they reconsider that you must use it, and also consider ways to lessen what’s already being used,” Cohn said.
Justa Encarnacion, the Virgin Islands Commissioner of Health, spoke with USVI News.
She wants to be clear that they’re not mandating the use of single-use plastics, “The guidance is not to use plastics, the guidelines are to focus on disposable, biodegradable disposable plates and utensils. They’re not as costly as one would think, so what we’re asking for, is for folks to work with us for a few weeks and see exactly what happens,” said Encarnacion.
Governor Albert Bryan also addressed the concerns of the more than 5,000 individuals who signed the online petition, “In a world pandemic where over 100,000 people in America alone have died, if the biggest problem in the VI is we don’t’ want to use plastic cutlery for 60 days then I’m doing good, so I’ll take that heat but I know at the end of the day it can’t hurt and people are a lot safer when they get in the restaurants,” said Bryan.
The administration says they hear the concerns of residents and businesses, but reiterate the mandate is not to harm businesses, rather keep Coronavirus from spreading
Encarnacion notes it’s a delicate balance of business success and safety, with the latter coming first, “And so why not err on the side of caution, I know it’s not comfortable for many businesses, but it’s for a short period of time, we are still in a pandemic, all we’re asking is for people to give us some time.”
What about dish washing? Cohn says using proper temperatures during cleaning can kill the Coronavirus. However, Encarnacion says dishwashers and sanitizers are not always reliable and they cannot be absolutely sure sanitation or dish washing is being done properly enough to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Encarnacion says VI administration will reevaluate the mandate in August and if it’s determined to not be necessary, they will end the mandate.