Confirmed COVID cases drop to single digit level this past week
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — After three weeks of double-digit COVID-19 positive cases from the community spread of the deadly virus, the Health Department is now reporting positive cases at a single digit level, while LBJ Medical Center reports that the number of COVID-19 related deaths remains at 34.
This is according to a COVID-19 Task Force statement yesterday summarizing the outcome of Tuesday afternoon’s meeting, which included recommendations from DoH.
For the week of Sept. 12 to Sept. 18, DoH reports a total of 1,145 people were tested at DoH clinics and LBJ Medical Center and only nine of them tested positive. The previous week, Sept. 05 to Sept. 11, DoH reported 18 new positive cases from the 1,047 individuals tested.
With the 9 new positives, total cumulative COVID-19 count stands at 8,244 since the first community case was recorded on Feb. 28, while there are 14 active cases.
As of Sept. 4, 2022, 89.8% of the territory’s population has received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine while 85.6% are fully vaccinated. From Sept. 12 – 16, there were 85 people who got vaccinated.
According to DoH, the territory has an ample supply of vaccines, including the new Pfizer and Moderna bivalent boosters, which target the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants. DoH Clinical director, Dr. Elizabeth Lauvao said taking the bivalent booster once would mean a person would not need subsequent booster shots.
(No information was available at press time from DoH as to if and when the bivalent boosters will be made available to local residents.)
During the task force briefing, Dr. Abraham Leiato of the LBJ reports that COVID related deaths remains at 34 while cumulative admissions for the hospital, since the outbreak, stands at 157.
The hospital has already suspended its pre-COVID testing which required residents to get tested under tents outside of the hospital before they could access hospital services. Dr. Leiato explained there will still be some minimal testing done but that would be at the discretion of a physician. This would be in cases where a patient is exhibiting symptoms for example.
However, the hospital is still maintaining the face-masking requirement inside the hospital and observing social distancing at all clinics.
With the positive cases at a single digit level, task force chairman, Lt. Gov. Talauega E.V. Ale, said he is very happy to see the decline in positive cases. And while American Samoa’s borders are opening, he points out that borders are being opened in a controlled manner considering COVID is still here and other health threats are knocking at our door.
Talauega said the ASG online travel portal, TALOFAPass, which screens entry into the territory, is still being used for the purpose of recording and tracking travelers to American Samoa but not for blocking anyone out.
DoH made three recommendations that were approved by the task force:
• DoH will discontinue COVID-19 test requirement for transit passengers traveling from outside of the US and Samoa.
• Transfer responsibility to the local Homeland Security Department regarding the monitoring of the TALOFAPass registration and travelers entering American Samoa.
• Open the airport hangar — that was used as the ASG quarantine site for arrival passengers who tested positive upon arrival — for paid accommodation for incoming travelers such as ASG visitors and local organizations.
All travelers to the territory are still required to be fully vaccinated prior to entering the territory. DoH is keeping this same requirement for seaport operations but there will be no testing upon arrival.
Crews of American Samoa longliners will be allowed to disembark but crews of foreign longliners including those who come on purse seiners, container ships, tankers and reefers are not allowed to disembark, according to the task force statement.
If they want to disembark, Health director Motusa Tuileama Nua told the task force meeting that all relevant agencies such as Customs and Immigration will be notified so they can process the crews and make sure all paperwork is in order.
For travelers coming via yachts and other small vessels, they are allowed to disembark after they are COVID tested by DOH.
It was announced at the meeting that the MV Lady Naomi is now cleared to carry up to 200 passengers per sailing — an increase from the previous policy of 60 travelers per sail.
Yesterday was initially supposed to be the start of weekly sailings of the Lady Naomi, however, Port Director Chris King reported that the sailing request was “last minute” because Port had already scheduled other operations on this day.
Samoa News points out that with the number of passengers limited at 60 per sail, the Samoa Shipping Corporation, which oversees all Samoa government vessels, opted to operate the Lady Naomi once, every-two weeks.
Many travelers to Samoa prefer the Lady Naomi, which offers a low fare - of about $65 compared to the airfare cost, which is close to $300 for a roundtrip.
The Samoa Government on Tuesday removed all its COVID-19 restrictions for travel into the country. This was confirmed by Acting Prime Minister Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio during a special announcement on Wednesday (Samoa time).
“Cabinet at its meeting of the 21st September 2022 has decided to remove all restrictions and related conditions from its current travel advisory to allow for the full opening of its borders.
“These include removing of mandatory PCR or RAT results for COVID-19, as criteria to travel to Samoa.
“Removing of the need to present evidence of vaccination such as vaccination cards as criteria to travel to Samoa.
“Also the ceasing of testing on arrival at the Faleolo International Airport or any other port of entry into Samoa,” said Tuala.
Tuala said the Government will enforce the completion of health arrival cards and fully apply its related penalties and fees for false declarations.
“We are encouraging complying with general health hygiene practices including wearing of face masks when necessary and for this travel advisory to be effective from Thursday 22nd of September 2022.”