November 28, 2022

Ilpuntontc

Just Do Travel

Online travel portal to end June 1 | News

The government’s online travel portal will end on June 1, and travelers entering the Virgin Islands will no longer have to submit proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or negative test, Government House Communications Director Richard Motta Jr. said Wednesday.

“The plan is to wait until after the busy Memorial Day travel weekend to stand down the portal as part of our transition from pandemic to endemic,” Motta said in a statement, in response to questions from The Daily News.

The decision to shut down the screening tool comes as COVID-19 infection rates remain relatively high following St. Thomas Carnival celebrations in April, and large crowds are expected to attend Agrifest on St. Croix this holiday weekend.

As of Wednesday, the seven-day infection rate is at 12.6%, with 633 active cases on St. Croix, 281 on St. Thomas, and 33 on St. John, according to the V.I. Health Department.

“There is always a concern with high rates of community spread, that’s why we are continuing our push to encourage residents to get vaccinated and boosted and to take the other necessary precautions,” Motta said.

The Health Department was tasked with ensuring travelers had submitted legitimate testing documents, and the portal warned users that they would face prosecution if they submitted fake test results.

Enforcement efforts didn’t result in arrests until April 2021, after Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. announced a crackdown on travelers trying to sneak through the online screening process with fake tests.

Travelers suspected of forging or otherwise altering the submitted health records were typically charged with making fraudulent claims upon the government, accessing a computer for fraudulent purposes, use of false information, and filing or recording forged instruments.

The four crimes collectively carry a maximum possible penalty of 13 years in prison and a maximum $7,500 fine upon conviction.

Defendants were typically released after posting $5,500 bail, and court records show prosecutors have been agreeing to dismiss charges in exchange for monetary fines under the V.I. Code’s civil compromise provisions.

Clifford Harrison Mattson was the first person charged with travel portal violations, after law enforcement officers said he admitted to submitting modified test results for him and his wife so they could travel home to St. Croix, according to court records.

In March, Mattson paid a $1,500 fine in exchange for an agreement from prosecutors to dismiss all charges, according to court records. Superior Court Judge Harold Willocks has scheduled a status conference for June 17.

V.I. Police Officer Annette Foy also paid a $1,500 fine in exchange for dismissal of her travel portal charges, according to court records. V.I. Superior Court Judge Sigrid Tejo ordered the case dismissed on Oct. 7.

Settlement amounts have varied.

A Florida woman named Kimberly Green was arrested in April 2021 and charged with travel portal violations. Assistant V.I. Attorney General Nadja Harrigan notified the court on April 22 that the Justice Department had received a $500 check from Green and “have received satisfaction.”

Shackera Christopher, who works in the Passport Division of the Lt. Governor’s Office, was also charged with travel portal violations in June 2021. In October, the parties notified the court that they had agreed to a $500 fine in exchange for dismissal.

A man named Shan Shan Li was charged with travel portal violations in July. In December, he agreed to forfeit the entirety of his $5,500 bail in exchange for dismissal, according to court records.