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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, August 18, 2022


Oct. 19, 2001 – Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and other top officials offered words of assurance Friday that the government is prepared to handle any threat or actual release of anthrax in the territory.
No reports of releases of the disease in the territory have been confirmed, although there have been several hoaxes and false alarms, FBI Special Agent Michael Clarke said at a Government House press conference on St. Thomas.
Hazardous materials specialists have responded to eight calls about possible anthrax contamination locally this week, according to Police Commissioner Franz Christian. They ranged from suspicions about unknown powders in public areas to suspicious-looking letters that turned out to be credit-card bills.
But each call has been and will be taken seriously in light of the numerous anthrax exposures that have been reported on the mainland, Christian said.
This week, government officials drafted a plan for responding to threats of biological terrorism in the territory, Maj. Gen. Cleve McBean of the V.I. National Guard said.
The response plan involves police, firefighters, health officials, the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, several federal agencies and the Planning and Natural Resources Department, which will be the lead agency to respond to possible hazardous materials, DPNR Commissioner Dean Plaskett said.
The plan follows recommendations by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and is similar to plans being implemented around the nation in response to the anthrax scares, Plaskett said.
After 911 emergency dispatchers learn of a possible release, a team of people trained to handle hazardous materials will respond, Plaskett said. The teams have access to four full-body protection suits.
After those teams determine whether the substance or package in question fits the profile established for anthrax, they will determine whether to remove the substance for testing or, if it appears threatening, to turn the case over to the FBI.
The hazardous materials team has access to anthrax field testing kits, but the results of those tests are not always reliable, Plaskett said. If necessary, he added, substances will be taken to a laboratory for testing.
Dr. Mavis Matthew, acting commissioner of Health, said Health Department employees have been reviewing CDC advisories on dealing with possible anthrax exposures. Pharmacies in the territory have been asked to stock 60 days worth of antibiotics including ciprofloxacin, marketed by Bayer under the name Cipro, the most widely known agent for fighting anthrax.
Matthew urged people not to take anti-anthrax antibiotics unless a physician recommends them based on indications of an exposure, as the medications can have serious side effects. She also emphasized that anthrax is not contagious.
A Health Department hotline has been set up for people with questions or concerns about possible exposures to call for information. The number is 776-8311, ext. 2148.
Postmaster Louis Jackson asked people to watch out for suspicious pieces of mail, such as those that have no return address, that have oily stains in the corners, that are sealed with excessive tape or that have a strange odor. Do not smell suspicious packages, he warned.
Anyone who receives a suspicious package should seal it in a plastic bag or just leave it where it is, place something over it to cover it, get people out of the immediate area, and call 911, he said.
Turnbull and others urged people to be on the lookout for anything suspicious. The governor noted that investigating fake anthrax cases will further drain the territory's resources, and Christian said anyone caught trying to pull off a hoax will be prosecuted to the fullest extent.
"These are the defining moments in our history," Turnbull said in asking people to act responsibly. "We are being challenged, as those before us have risen to their challenges."

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