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COVID Task Force hashes out pros and cons of TALOFAPass

Talauega calls on task force to come together with solutions

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Health Department’s recommendation to suspend the use of ASG’s online safe travel portal, TALOFAPass — which screens entry into American Samoa — was the subject of discussion at Tuesday’s COVID-19 Task Force briefing, but a final decision on the issue has not been made yet, according to notes from the briefing and ASG officials who attended the meeting.

During its presentation at the task force meeting, DoH presented five recommendations, including that the department’s medical team recommends suspending TALOFAPass by Nov. 01 this year, and DoH plans to develop a plan to monitor travelers’ vaccination status and will present it at the next task force briefing.

Under current restrictions, mask wearing is required for all incoming travelers as well as Pago Pago International Airport operations personnel, and the inside vicinity of the airport is limited to only arrival and departing passengers — not the public.

However, DoH recommends to the task force that masks no longer be required for airport operations and this includes retuning travelers. Additionally, it recommends allowing the community to have access to the airport with normal operations resuming.

Another recommendation is for DoH and local Homeland Security Department to find a way to mitigate 3 hours at the luggage and inspection areas at the airport for arriving passengers.

DoH also recommends that the Airport Hangar facility used for isolation of incoming passengers testing positive upon arrival can be used to support family services for returned human remains.

Under current COVID-19 restrictions, arriving travelers are no longer required to be tested upon arrival in American Samoa.

Discussions followed with input from task force members and one issue raised is the continuation of the Governor’s COVID-19 Emergency Declaration, or lifting/ suspending some of the current travel entry requirements, based on DoH recommendations.

Lt. Gov. Talauega E.V. Ale, who is also the Governor’s Authorized Representative (GAR), points out that the question is whether to recommend to the governor that there’s no longer a need for the restrictions but still mandate full vaccination for travelers entering the territory, according to notes from the task force briefings and ASG officials who attended the meeting.

Talauega posed the question to task force members, “are we at the stage we can comfortably recommend to the governor to remove some limitations and some restrictions?”

U.S Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) representatives who participate in task force briefings, suggested to continue the COVID emergency declaration and keep some useful restrictions.

DoH supports continuing the declaration and points out that there are still several diseases out there. The department raised the question on what if TALOFAPass is discontinued but the declaration is still supported?

On the other hand, Talauega asked what should happen if American Samoa still mandates full vaccination of travelers entering the territory? “If we are mandating vaccinations, then TALOFAPass should still be in place. We should issue out a declaration but remove some of the restrictions,” he said, and noted that he’ll give DoH some time to discuss and determine what the next steps will be.

DoH suggests that its physicians along with those from LBJ Medical Center need to come together to make a final decision on mandates.

“These are tough decisions to make, but we have to make them,” Talauega told task force members. “We have done great work in protecting our communities so let’s continue to do so. We need to keep building and making things better for our people.”

He asked the task force to make their voices known and come together at next week’s meeting with solutions.