Best Timeline for the Fouled Up USG Coronavirus Testing Process

from the Washington Post website – free – https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/03/30/11-100000-what-went-wrong-with-coronavirus-testing-us/

Graphics on-line are worth looking at.

Fact Checker

11 to 100,000: What went wrong with coronavirus testing in the U.S. |
The Fact Checker

Testing for the novel coronavirus is a crucial part of slowing the spread of the disease.
Here’s how the U.S. failed to provide tests that worked quickly.

By — Meg Kelly, Sarah Cahlan and Elyse Samuels
March 30, 2020 at 3:00 a.m. EDT

[Please Note: The Washington Post is providing this story for free so that all readers have access to this important information about the coronavirus. For more free stories, sign up for our daily Coronavirus Updates newsletter.]

“We have it totally under control.”
— President Trump, in an interview, on Jan. 22

“We’re in great shape in our country. We have 11, and the 11 are getting better. ”
— Trump, in remarks, on Feb. 10

“You may ask about the coronavirus, which is very well under control in our country.”
— Trump, in a news conference, on Feb. 25

“It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”
— Trump, in remarks, on Feb. 27

“Anybody that needs a test, gets a test. They’re there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful.”
— Trump, in remarks at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, March 6

[This article has been updated with a response from the Food and Drug Administration.]

When the first U.S. case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed, President Trump assured the American people that the situation was “totally under control.” Cabinet officials, the vice president and the president repeated that refrain throughout February. By the end of that month, as global financial markets and the American public started to quiver, Trump held firm: “You may ask about the coronavirus, which is very well under control in our country.”

With the clarity of hindsight, it is obvious the situation was very much not under control. In reality, a lack of testing gave a false picture of how many people across the country were infected.

Through government documents, testimony, news reports and interviews, The Fact Checker video team has reconstructed events that left the government blind to the virus’s spread, and examined how those errors opened the door for 11 confirmed cases to balloon to more than 100,000 in less than six weeks.
The Facts

The novel coronavirus was first detected in early December in Wuhan, China. Chinese officials reported the pneumonia-like disease to the World Health Organization (WHO) at the end of December, but neglected to mention growing evidence that the virus could spread by human-to-human transmission through airborne droplets.
AD

Still, China’s previous failures to be forthcoming about public health crises meant that public health officials elsewhere already were wary of its government’s official statements. As reports of the mysterious virus increased, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned Americans against traveling to China and activated an emergency management tool used to direct operations, deliver resources and share information.

Despite the alarm bells and increased intelligence briefings, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar struggled to get Trump’s attention for weeks.

January: Make the test

One of the first things that any government needs to track and manage any disease’s spread is the ability to test for it. Because covid-19 is a disease caused by a novel strain of coronavirus, that meant developing a new test.

China developed its own test. The WHO adopted a test from German researchers and published testing protocols in mid-January. Those protocols could be adopted by other countries to produce their own tests or countries could use tests provided by the WHO. The CDC publicly shared the details of the test it designed on Jan. 24 — three days after the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in Washington state.

The CDC’s decision to develop its own test is not unusual. “The CDC will develop their own test that is suited to an American health-care context and the regulations that exist here,” Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, explained. “That’s how we normally would do things. A lot of countries don’t have the capabilities that we have here. And so they need to rely on the WHO to provide tests to them. We don’t have to do that in the United States.”

Even though the United States had cases in the single digits in late January, some public health officials were increasingly worried. Luciana Borio, the former head of medical and biodefense preparedness at the National Security Council, and Scott Gottlieb, who led the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from May 2017 to April 2019, wrote a prescient op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, warning that if the virus is widespread, “the CDC will struggle to keep up with the volume of screening. Government should focus on working with private industry to develop easy-to-use, rapid diagnostic tests that can be made available to providers.” Borio told NPR on Jan. 30: “The most important and effective way to control epidemics is to identify patients who are infected, exposed to the virus, and isolate them.”

In other words, the government needed to prepare to test Americans on a large scale.

But the government did almost the exact opposite of what Borio and Gottlieb proposed. CDC issued narrow guidance on which patients qualified for a test — only those with recent travel to Wuhan or those who had come into contact with an infected person.

On Jan. 31, Azar declared a “public health emergency,” announcing travel restrictions — including barring noncitizens who had recently visited China from entering the United States — in an effort to curtail the virus’s spread inside the country. The declaration triggered emergency testing protocols, which increased restrictions on which labs could make a coronavirus test. Any lab would be required to acquire an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA to perform testing for covid-19. The FDA granted the CDC the first EUA.
AD

The overall plan was simple. The CDC would use the science it had developed for the test, do the bulk of the testing, and distribute test kits to qualified state labs. This would safeguard against potential bad results and ensure an accurate count.

The EUA requirement meant that other labs, including sophisticated labs that developed tests based on the genetic sequence available and that under normal circumstances could have begun testing, were not able to do so until they received special permission.

February: Distribute the Test

On Feb. 2, Gottlieb tweeted, “Since CDC and FDA haven’t authorized public health or hospital labs to run the tests, right now #CDC is the only place that can. So, screening has to be rationed. Our ability to detect secondary spread among people not directly tied to China travel is greatly limited.”
AD

The conundrum Gottlieb described quickly amplified. The CDC-manufactured kits were sent to state labs on Feb. 6 and Feb. 7. Some labs had problems with the test. By Feb. 12, the CDC announced that the test was providing inconclusive results. By then, the United States had reported 11 cases.

The low case count dampened concern among some in the administration. And Trump touted those comparatively low numbers on Feb. 10: “We’re doing great in our country. … We only have 11 cases, and they’re all getting better.”

By then, a self-perpetuating cycle had formed. Few people qualified to be tested, and even if they did qualify, the CDC was essentially the only place that could do those tests. (A total of 12 other labs received EUAs by late February.) That meant relatively few tests were performed, and thus few people tested positive for the virus.

By Feb. 16, the CDC and state public health labs tested nearly 1,600 specimens. As a rule of thumb, two specimens are required per person, meaning that in total, only about 800 people had been tested. That’s roughly 2.4 tests per million people in the United States. In contrast, South Korea, which found its first case on the same day as the United States, had tested nearly 8,000 people, or 154.7 tests per million.
COVID-19 tests per million residents

“The testing issue was not something that any single agency could resolve,” Konyndyk said. “CDC had their piece of it, which was their own test, but CDC didn’t have the authority to tell other private labs: Go ahead. You’ve got a green light. FDA had to do that.”

The New York Times reported that Azar was “unable” to get either the CDC or the FDA to “speed up or change course.” Moreover, he “had been at odds for months with the White House over other issues” and was communicating primarily with acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who was in the process of being forced out.

Azar testified that he intended to implement a pilot program, adding coronavirus surveillance to the existing flu surveillance networks on Feb. 13. But it never came to fruition. There were not enough tests to make it happen.

By the following week, it became clear to local public health officials that the virus had spread in communities and become endemic in other countries. Public health labs, frustrated by their inability to test, became frantic. Still, the CDC warned labs not to test without emergency authorization from the FDA — regardless of whether protocols they planned to use came from the WHO or the CDC or had been developed in-house.

(Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed this warning to the FDA.)

On Feb. 24, state public health labs made an unusual plea for the agency to open testing. That same day, Trump tweeted, “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.”

The next day, Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters: “Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in the United States. It’s not a question of if this will happen, but when this will happen, and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses.”

One section of Messonnier’s remarks was especially stark: “I had a conversation with my family over breakfast this morning, and I told my children that while I didn’t think that they were at risk right now, we as a family need to be preparing for significant disruption of our lives.”

According to news reports, Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was growing concerned about the slow pace of testing. But Trump’s cheery assessments continued. On Feb. 27, he said, “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”

March: A new strategy

Two days later, on Feb. 29, the FDA lifted restrictions on labs, issuing a new set of significantly less restrictive protocols. On March 3, the restrictions on who qualified for a test were dissolved. At that point, 13 people in the United States were recorded as having died of covid-19.

Still, tests were hard to come by. Five days after both restrictions were removed, the United States reported 518 cases and had completed 3,099 tests, according to the Covid Tracking Project. That is roughly 9.5 tests per million people. South Korea had 7,314 cases after performing 188,518 tests, or 3,682 tests per million. Yet, Trump claimed on March 6 that “anybody that needs a test gets a test.”

As of March 28, exactly four weeks after the FDA loosened the rules for testing, the United States still performed only 2,250 tests per million — two-thirds of what South Korea did almost three weeks earlier. The death toll in the United States was 2,198 — and climbing rapidly.

South Korea’s death toll that day was 144, a rate of 3 per million people. The rate for the United States was more than double — 7 per million people.

Konyndyk put the failure simply: “The reason [the lack of testing] has been such a damaging shortcoming in the U.S. response is it basically left us blind to the spread of the virus in our country for about six or seven weeks.”

The White House, the CDC and other federal agencies did not respond to requests for comment.

Stephanie Caccomo, spokeswoman for the FDA sent this statement: “The FDA’s regulations have not hindered or been a roadblock to the rollout of tests during this pandemic. The FDA has been extremely proactive and supportive of test development by all comers—laboratories, and large and small commercial manufacturers—offering our expertise and support to speed development and to quickly authorize tests that the science supports.”

The Bottom Line

The president spent nearly two months issuing confusing and contradictory signals — leaving the bureaucratic machine of the U.S. government to chart the course for the coronavirus response.

The CDC designed its own test. The FDA picked a conservative testing strategy, allowing labs to use only the CDC test. When those tests failed, neither a new strategy nor a new test was available for more than two weeks. Azar failed to push the agencies to change direction, and the president didn’t intervene.

Even then, widespread testing was not immediately available. It’s not just the number of tests that are the problem — it’s getting the materials to do the tests and the personal protective medical equipment for providers to give those tests. That means we may never have a true count of how many Americans contracted the virus.

The missteps that went unmanaged were ignored by leaders at the highest level of government and allowed cases to go undetected, contributing to the spike in the virus’s spread.

2.2k Comments

Meg Kelly
Meg Kelly produces video and reports for the Fact Checker. She previously covered the 2016 election for NPR where she was a visual producer. Follow

Sarah Cahlan
Sarah Cahlan edits and produces videos for the Fact Checker at The Washington Post. Follow

Elyse Samuels
Elyse Samuels is a digital video editor focused on verifying viral video, reporting on misinformation and manipulated video that spreads online. She joined The Washington Post in October 2016 as a producer for the Facebook Live team. She then transitioned to the universal desk where she focused on editing breaking news content.

Posted in Fun

Walking Has Major Health Effects

This from Tuesday’s Health & Science section of The Washington Post. Bottom line is that 8,000 steps a day produces major benefits over a modest 4,000 steps.

Posted in Fun

Washington Post: Judge challenges Barr’s credibility over handling of Mueller report

Another outburst by one of those subversive Republican-appointee judges who persist in characterizing Attorney General Barr as a lying piece . . . but I digress.

Judge challenges Barr’s credibility over handling of Mueller report
Judge Reggie Walton criticized the attorney general in a written opinion raising doubts about Barr’s credibility.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/mueller-report-attorney-general-william-barr/2020/03/05/3fa7afce-5f2c-11ea-b29b-9db42f7803a7

Posted in Fun

Defense firms cash in on an ‘unprecedented’ wave of classified spending

Nasty capitalist pigs, those defense companies. We’ll have to get rid of them. Imagine, classifying certain projects. No excuse for that,

Defense researchers should follow the example of those tax payer subsidized medical researchers at Harvard and Moffet. Get money selling the data and their findings to the Chinese. Then it doesn’t matter if the work is classified or not.

On Feb 3, 2020, at 8:21 AM, Bruce G. Potter wrote:

I thought you might like this story from The Washington Post. I’d tell you more, but then . . . well, you know . . . .

Defense firms cash in on an ‘unprecedented’ wave of classified spending
Secret projects are highly sought-after in the beltway’s insular defense industry. They tend to be subject to less oversight from Congress and the public.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/01/31/classified-defense-spending/

Bruce

Posted in Fun

Defense firms cash in on an ‘unprecedented’ wave of classified spending

I thought you might like this story from The Washington Post. I’d tell you more, but then . . . well, you know . . . .

Defense firms cash in on an ‘unprecedented’ wave of classified spending
Secret projects are highly sought-after in the beltway’s insular defense industry. They tend to be subject to less oversight from Congress and the public.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/01/31/classified-defense-spending/

Bruce

Posted in Fun

This is what hurricanes do: Caneel Bay Plantation is Dead

from the NY Times: <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/20/travel/st-john-caneel-bay-resort.html >

Caneel Bay:
Why a Caribbean Paradise Remains in Ruins

Two years after back-to-back hurricanes struck St. John, the famed Caneel Bay Resort has not reopened. The storms’ lingering aftermath laid bare the eco-resort’s long-festering problems.

Caneel Bay, established by a member of the Rockefeller family, was one of the first eco-resorts in the United States.Caneel Bay, established by a member of the Rockefeller family, was one of the first eco-resorts in the United States.Credit…Anne Bequette for The New York Times

By Emily Palmer                                                                                Jan. 20, 2020
Browned palm leaves fan over the white-sand beaches of Caneel Bay Resort. Peeling paint buckles on the exterior walls of roofless cabins. Inside, white curtains, still knotted, drape like ripped cobwebs from windows, and mold-matted mattresses sag without their frames. A back door swings wide.

Long considered the crown jewel of St. John, a small emerald island found among the U.S. Virgin Islands and cut with curved bays and set against the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, the 170 secluded acres of Caneel Bay once drew presidents, movie stars and literary icons — from John Steinbeck and Lady Bird Johnson to Meryl Streep and Mitch McConnell.

More than 15,000 people annually visited the property nestled within the Virgin Islands National Park and home to a handful of endangered species. The four-star eco-resort, established by the Rockefeller family, was one of the first in the United States.

“It was a first-class experience without the pretentiousness of the rest of the world,” said Bob Rice, a guest from Needham, Mass., who stayed at the property with his family eight times. “You just got nature at its best.”

Two weeks in September 2017 changed that. Hurricanes Irma and Maria — both Category Five storms — flogged St. John, ripping apart structures and flooding what remained.

Even as other accommodations in the region have reopened, Caneel Bay remains in tatters. Those who have ventured inside recall a newspaper on the front desk dated September 2017 — just before the first storm. Scheduled weddings marked the chalkboard, they say, and rats could be seen scurrying across the wine cellar floor.

While the hurricanes ripped apart the resort’s infrastructure in a matter of hours, the storms’ lingering aftermath laid bare its long-festering problems, which include an unorthodox land-use agreement with the federal government, possible environmental contamination that predated the storms and contentious relationships between the staff and management. Together, they have stalled the resort’s reconstruction and hurt the island’s economy.

Caneel Bay’s future is tied up in a dispute between its owner, CBI Acquisitions, which took over the resort in 2004, and the National Park Service, which owns the land where Caneel Bay sits. CBI Acquisitions says they cannot afford to rebuild unless they get an extension of their right to control and use the resort property from the Park Service.

In turn, the Park Service says that the agreement needs to be renegotiated and that it needs to complete environmental testing — on hold since 2014 — to determine the extent of mercury, arsenic and other hazardous chemicals previously found on the property, as well as the cost of the cleanup.

‘The first ferry over’

Bob Natt and his wife, Helen, honeymooned at Caneel Bay in 1971. As their family grew, they spread to several cabins, staying some 30 to 35 times over 46 years.

“Getting a Christmas cottage on Caneel Bay was like something you put in your will — it was that hard to get,” said Mr. Natt, who lives in Easton, Conn.

To stay in its 166 simply furnished cabins, guests spent an average of $727 a night — and up to almost $2,000 for Christmas in 2017.

A view of Caneel Bay in 2016. The Caneel Bay Resort was long considered the crown jewel of the island of St. John.
A view of Caneel Bay in 2016. The Caneel Bay Resort was long considered the crown jewel of the island of St. John.
                    Credit                           Robert Rausch for The New York Times

Mr. Natt, 71, has maintained contact with management. “I said ‘the day you open, I want to be on the first ferry over’.”

In 2017, less than two weeks after employees waved the last boatload of guests from the dock, ahead of an annual eight-week hurricane season closure, Hurricane Irma hammered St. John and neighboring St. Thomas, splintering trees, ripping off roofs, twisting metal frames and collapsing walls.

Twelve days later, Hurricane Maria swallowed what little remained — including the initial repair efforts — dumping up to three feet of rain atop the devastation.

At other hotels, the push to rebuild was almost immediate. The Westin St. John Resort Villas, one of the few other resorts on St. John, employed staff to help with the cleanup, which took 16 months. The resort fully reopened to guests last February.

At first, Caneel employees — who made up seven percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ total employment in the hotel and restaurant sector, “putting Caneel on par with Walmart in terms of the number of jobs created in a state by a single employer,” according to a Congressional white paper — expected they would be similarly involved in their resort’s clean up, as they had with previous storms.

But this time, hundreds of workers found themselves unemployed. Unionized employees, some who had worked on the resort for decades, received termination letters by mail.

“The whole community is hurting,” said Theresa Germain, a housekeeper who retired months before the storms and worked on the resort about 35 years.

But no rebuilding began.

CBI Acquisitions, a limited liability company based in Connecticut and created to purchase the resort, has the rights for land use and occupancy until 2023. Gary Engle, the resort’s principal owner, has refused to rebuild without an extension of those rights, saying it is not worth the investment of about $100 million to rebuild most units and install new electrical wiring and plumbing, among other tasks.

“Lack of clarity is the major problem with the resort right now,” Mr. Engle said in an interview. “Because without fixing the uncertainty, there’s no money that’s going to be invested in this property.”

The destroyed resort is an inescapable sight on such a small island. Only the main entrance has been repaired. For $20, visitors can take a golf cart ride from there to Honeymoon Beach, the only beach out of seven associated with the resort that has reopened.

The golf cart trundles over a potholed path, jagged with bare pipes and winds past an eerie landscape of deserted cabins, overgrown brush and felled trees.

More than two years after back-to-back Category 5 storms decimated Caneel Bay, the resort remains in disarray.
More than two years after back-to-back Category 5 storms decimated Caneel Bay, the resort remains in disarray.
                                                       Credit                     Anne Bequette for The New York Times

The Rockefellers arrive

In 1952, while cruising along the Caribbean, Laurance Spelman Rockefeller, the grandson of the oil tycoon and a successful venture capitalist and conservationist, docked at Caneel Bay, where he bought the stock of an existing resort.

Mr. Rockefeller and another developer soon began buying real estate around the resort. Despite reservations from some residents, they planned to create a national park.

Eventually, Mr. Rockefeller turned over more than 5,000 acres to the National Park Service, which today owns almost two-thirds of the island.

In 1956, Mr. Rockefeller opened an environmentally focused resort in the heart of the newly created Virgin Islands National Park — on land he kept for himself.

Theovald E. Moorehead, a native of St. John and local lawmaker who successfully petitioned Congress to prevent islanders’ land from being condemned for the park, grew concerned over changes he witnessed on the island.

“We like tourists but we will not sacrifice ourselves to make this a happy place for tourists,” he wrote in 1958. “What we want is a happy island — happy for everyone — including ourselves.”

As the years passed, the Caribbean, a popular destination for American travelers accustomed to luxury hotels, saw an influx of big-brand hoteliers and cruise lines; Many benefited from offshore tax incentives from the U.S. Virgin Islands Economic Development Commission, an organization geared toward aiding companies establishing themselves in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Caneel Bay Plantation, as it was then called, offered an alternative experience beyond chain brand amenities — with cabins just footsteps from the water, and an informal communal teatime where guests mingled each day on the veranda.

The Rockefeller family donated the property to the Park Service in 1983, but based on a vaguely written legal condition, they continued operating the resort through one of their nonprofits, untethered by typical National Park standards.

The “retained use estate” contract — now the only such commercial agreement across the Parks Systems — was 13 pages long, bare bones compared to current park leases, and immediately caused confusion. Within a year, the Interior Department, which oversees the Park Service, explained the parks had “very little authority” on the property, based on “the expansive nature” of the Rockefellers’ reserved rights.

Without an airport on the island, St. John is accessible only by boat. Ships dock here at the entrance of Cruz Bay.Without an airport on the island, St. John is accessible only by boat. Ships dock here at the entrance of Cruz Bay.
Credit…Anne Bequette for The New York Times

The resort changed hands several times, eventually causing even Mr. Rockefeller concerns. He wrote to the Park Service director in 1988: “It is my sincere hope that you would not consider granting any request to extend the Retained Use Estate at Caneel Bay.” He added that his “intention and expectation” was for the R.U.E. to expire by 2023.

An asbestos pipe, stalled testing and no answers

Caneel Bay Resort was one of the region’s few eco-lodge resorts, featuring a reverse osmosis water plant and environmentally friendly upgrades. And the land agreement with the Park Service — which receives no payment for use of the federal property — along with long-extended benefits from the Economic Development Commission, made the resort’s business position enviable.

Shortly after CBI Acquisitions took over the land agreement in 2004, Mr. Engle, started looking for ways to extend the R.U.E.

“That was an essential part of the transaction,” Mr. Engle said of the initial purchase. But despite the benefits, he said it wasn’t all positive, particularly the lack of clarity around what would happen after the agreement expired in 2023.

A bill passed by Congress in 2010 would enable a 40-year extension, following routine environmental testing, and contingent on the company relinquishing the mandates of the R.U.E.

Initial environmental tests were conducted in 2012 and 2014; but while some results were made public, those referring to potential environmental problems were not.

Those unpublished assessments, reviewed by The Times and National Parks Traveler, a news website covering the parks and other protected areas that provided The Times with some documents, noted, among other concerns “a release of hazardous substances or petroleum products” throughout the property, including excessive amounts of mercury and arsenic.

A pipe with “approximately 30 percent asbestos,” considered a high amount, was also found, and an employee told the assessors that more pipes existed.

No health problems have been documented, but the Park Service, which requested the tests as part of departmental policy, noted that more tests were needed. The public was never alerted, and the follow-up tests never happened.

Caitlin Klevorick, a CBI Acquisitions spokeswoman, said by email that the company believed that if any potential environmental problems exist, they resulted before CBI Acquisitions became landholders.

“Caneel Bay was fully committed to and did operate the resort to ensure guests’ safety,” she said.

Michael Litterst, acting chief of public affairs for the Park Service, declined to be interviewed, noting “both pending legislation and potential litigation.”

But Stephanie Roulett, a Park Service spokeswoman, said by email that the agency had tried to get on the property multiple times and had not been granted access. She said that while they could implement a “legal procedure,” they had “thus-far not significantly pushed back.”

A series of letters between Mr. Engle and the Park Service, obtained by The Times, illustrates negotiations at loggerheads.

In April 2019, Mr. Engle sent the Interior department a letter claiming the right to “immediately and automatically” take over the property unless the government paid $70 million and assured indemnification “from all environmental liabilities.”

The agency rejected Mr. Engle’s ultimatum, repeating a request for additional environmental testing.

Ms. Klevorick, the resort spokeswoman, said the company is “committed to further cooperation with the NPS in the next phase of an environmental site investigation.”
The Westin St. John Resort Villas, one of the few other resorts on St. John, has fully reopened.
The Westin St. John Resort Villas, one of the few other resorts on St. John, has fully reopened.

                                                       Credit               Anne Bequette for The New York Times

The storm before the storms

Even before the hurricanes forced the resort to shut down, some longtime employees had become increasingly frustrated.

Ms. Germain, the housekeeper and local union representative, said when she started working at the resort in the 1980s, staffers had a sense of pride but that diminished under new management.

“As time passed it got a dose of bad management,” she said. “They treated us really poorly — really bad down to the last.”

Employees who had been full-time said that their hours declined in favor of seasonal workers. (Ms. Klevorick said that CBI Acquisitions “always prioritized” full-time employees over seasonal workers.) Management also instituted a security policy in which it checked employees’ bags before they left the resort each day.

Sheryl Parris, who has been president of the local union representing Caneel Bay since 2012, said that the “very insensitive” practices evoked hard feelings.

Caneel also attempted to reduce its full-time staff, successfully negotiating in April 2017 with the Economic Development Commission to decrease the minimum number of employees with full-time status to 230, a reduction of almost 100 people.

Additionally, despite continuing to collect local tax breaks — including a 90 percent income tax exemption and full exemptions from other taxes — the resort did not actually employ most of their workers year-round. All but a few dozen were let go each year for a six-to-eight week hurricane season closure, beginning in 2009.

Other resorts on nearby islands have also implemented such closures, but previous owners of Caneel Bay had never done seasonal layoffs. At a public hearing the day the work force agreement was announced, one commission member expressed reservations about the habitual layoffs but the resort continued the practice.
‘I want to do the right thing’

Months after the storms, and with the resort moldering on site, Stacey E. Plaskett, the U.S.V.I. delegate in Congress, introduced a new bill allowing a 60-year extension on the R.U.E. to coax the owners to rebuild. Missing from the bill’s text: any mention of required environmental testing.

Some resort staff and the greater St. John community felt excluded from the process and the bill was not well-received, particularly by some former employees who say they still never received paychecks for their last two weeks of work. Ms. Klevorick said the company was unaware of any employees who had not received payment “but recognizes that immediately following the storms it was very chaotic.”

As Ms. Plaskett’s approval rating plummeted on St. John, her working relationship with Mr. Engle also deteriorated; he appeared uninterested in working with the community, she said.

Mr. Engle acknowledged community frustration.

“Maybe when I was down there I didn’t handle it as well as I could have,” he said. “I want to do the right thing for the employees, I want to do the right thing for the community and the Virgin Islands.”

Then, about a year after the storms, Mr. Engle invited former employees and others onto the resort property for a meeting. Several people there recalled him framing the rebuild as contingent on the bill’s passage. Ms. Parris recalled employees offering to return and clean up, but instead, she said of the company: “They were waiting for that bill and so they kept all the employees waiting.”

The bill died. Ms. Plaskett said she has no plans to introduce new legislation.

Negotiations between CBI Acquisitions and the Park Service are ongoing. Last month, the company submitted a proposal to the service, and Ms. Roulett said earlier this month that the agency was currently drafting its own.

‘$60 and you’re doing good’

The loss of tourism has had lasting effects on bars and restaurants, as well as cabdrivers, who made the bulk of their money taking guests to and from dinner to places like ZoZo’s at The Sugar Mill, an Italian restaurant once located at Caneel.

“Before, everybody was making something,” recalled Everett Wilkinson, one cabdriver. “Now everyone is hustling for whatever they can make. It’s why most people on the island have two or three jobs — just to survive.”

Previously, he often brought in $200 a day. Now, “$60 and you’re doing good,” he said. “The taxi service right now is down to nothing. We’re sitting right by the dock, and we’re not moving.”

Although Mr. Engle insists that the rebuild has been stalled by uncertainty about what will happen to the property in 2023, court documents filed by certain underwriters at Lloyd’s of London, suggest that the company was “grossly underinsured.”

So far the company has received $32 million for a claim of total devastation following Hurricane Irma — although the resort’s insurable value was more than twice that.

Mr. Engle said that the groups are currently arbitrating the company’s claim for a separate payout for Hurricane Maria, saying that the damage incurred by the second storm was distinct from the first — a claim the insurance company has contested. Arbitration is scheduled for April.

Around the time that he was promoting Ms. Plaskett’s bill to former employees in 2018, Mr. Engle said in an interview with a local reporter that he was in a position of power with an insurance payout that did not require him to rebuild.

“I could take that money and walk away, or I can take that money and reinvest and maybe put up a little more capital and turn this into something special,” Mr. Engle said. “Without Caneel Bay, St. John is going to implode.”

Recalling that interview, Mr. Engle said that “as a matter of economic fact” the resort brought thousands of visitors to St. John and that “the amount of money that was spent by Caneel guests both at the resort and in the shops and the restaurants in Cruz Bay was very significant for an island with several thousand people.”

“I was basically stating the obvious,” he concluded. ‘We didn’t have hurricanes like this’

Lovango Cay, an off-the-grid island with views of St. John, will be home to a new environmentally sustainable resort of beachfront cottages.Lovango Cay, an off-the-grid island with views of St. John, will be home to a new environmentally sustainable resort of beachfront cottages.
Credit…Anne Bequette for The New York Times

A new environmentally sustainable resort is set to open in early 2021 on Lovango Cay, an island belonging to St. John and a 10-minute boat ride from Caneel Bay.

Mark and Gwenn Snider, who own resorts in Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, are designing the solar- and wind-powered resort.

“We’re really hoping to just have people do what they do best,” Mr. Snider said. “ Come down, help the economy — not to impose on the community — and travel with just their footprints.”

The hurricanes that battered the Caribbean in recent years have brought to light the region’s deeper issues with economies overly dependent on tourism. On St. John, all of those issues have come to a head.

“Keep in mind this has never happened in the Virgin Islands before,” said Ms. Parris, the union president. “We didn’t have hurricanes like this. We had hurricanes where trees would fall, but we went back to work. ”

And still, Caneel Bay’s devoted patrons hope one day they can return.

Mr. Natt, the longtime guest, said his family has returned to the region three times since the storms, though not to St. John.

“We have not found anything on the Caribbean that has been as good,” he said. “Without Caneel, the grandkids didn’t want to go.”

Emily Palmer, a journalist based in New York, contributes frequently to The New York Times and covers courts and crime.

Posted in Climate Change, Development, Tourism, Small Island, Disaster Management

Ecobot App Raises $1M To Save Wetlands And Time

Thank you for the information, technology for protection and science through phones is a great way to get more information faster. Done are the days of slugging large instruments and equipment through the marsh and woods.

Diana L. Muller, Executive Director
Maritimas
443-534-2847

On Wed, Jan 15, 2020 at 1:31 PM Bruce G. Potter <bpotter> wrote:

This is the kind of resource planning tool that we’ve been waiting to see for many years. Moving the operation of the analytical and display issues directly to the resource policy managers.

From Forbes <https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffkart/2019/12/17/ecobot-app-raises-1m-to-save-wetlands-and-time/#64d011b74ad2 > (See the website for graphics)

Dec 17, 2019, 06:14pm
Ecobot App Raises $1M To Save Wetlands And Time

Jeff Kart
Contributor
Science

Wetlands need protecting, for everything from filtering runoff to helping prevent flooding. But the job of environmental consultants, who examine properties to determine if they contain wetlands, consumes time. An app called Ecobot streamlines the process and has raised more than $1 million in venture funding. That means additional people who protect wetlands will be able to spend more of their time being scientists, says Lee Lance, cofounder and CEO.

The app from Ecobot, headquartered in Ashville, North Carolina, was in private beta release for a year before being released this month on the Apple App Store.

The recent influx of funding, via Cofounders Capital, will be used to bring on additional programmers and other staff, Lance says. Ecobot announced a partnership with mapping company Esri earlier this year, and also will be showing off its technology at upcoming conferences in 2020.

What does it mean for wetland protection?

Ecobot allows environmental consultants to work offline to identify Waters of the United States, as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act.

“Waterway impacts must be assessed before any commercial construction companies can move dirt, before oil and gas companies can lay down pipelines, or before (Department of Transportation) or rail can do work on highways and railroads,” Lance explains.

Ecobot is used to generate U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wetland delineation reports. These are what a consultant is hired to prepare for a site that’s pending development.

The app provides lookup tools and automatic calculations that would otherwise have to be done by hand. The app even generates regulatory PDFs. One user has reported saving 2.5 hours per person, per day in the field.

“Wetlands don’t necessarily look like swamps,” Lance says. “Through the scientific observation, analysis and calculations of three key metrics, hydrology, vegetation and soil, a wetland scientist is able to make a recommendation on whether or not a property contains wetlands that would fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Ecobot equips private industry to get this done faster, cheaper and more accurately.’’

The app is available under two subscription models, one with unlimited usage and another with unlimited team access, says Jeremy Schewe, Ecobot’s cofounder and chief scientific officer.

To date, more than 200 field scientists at more than 50 companies have access to Ecobot and have submitted more than 2,500 wetland delineations to the Corps, Schewe says.

Lance adds: “This app enables people that are protecting wetlands, and we help those scientists spend a greater percentage of their time being scientists. By reducing regulatory costs, facilitating greater accuracy and speeding decisions on land use, Ecobot helps us protect our wetlands.”

The company plans to move into mitigation banking monitoring, state wetland and stream forms next.

Jeff Kart: Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

I focus on interesting, innovative and revolutionary U.S. stories about green startups and nongovernmental organizations as a Forbes contributor.

Posted in Fun