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COVID Task Force is looking to officially end it’s work in mid-January

Earlier Task Force meeting

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Unless there are unforeseen changes, the COVID-19 Task Force has agreed to tentatively close-out its work by the third week in January 2023 now that emergency declarations have ended, and all local restrictions have long been lifted as the community spread of the deadly pandemic has dropped to a single digit of positive cases on a weekly basis.

The decision on a close-out date, was one of the issues discussed during Tuesday’s task force briefing, in which the chairman, Lt. Gov Talauega E. V Ale, who is also the Governor’s Authorized Representatives (GAR) said he called the meeting to get updates and discuss any pending issues prior to the holiday break.

The last issue on the meeting’s agenda was closing out the task force’s work. “Now that emergency declarations have ended and we are officially opening borders from Jan. 01, 2023, is there any other reason for the task force to continue?” Talauega asked the members, during the Zoom briefing, which included a representative of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Health director Motusa Tuileama Nua said there’s “really no need for the task force to continue” but there will be reports that are still required of DoH, LBJ Medical Center and all of the supporting agencies, such as the number of COVID-19 positive cases.

Motusa said DoH expects an increase in the number of COVID positives due to gatherings during the holidays but that’s something that DoH and LBJ will have to work closely together to control. Additionally, DoH will continue working with Port Administration regarding seaport and airport entry into the territory.

With no other input from those in attendance, Talauega noted that he has received messages from everyone on this issue and these messages have also been seen by task force members.

“And I think everybody is in agreement, that we can safely scale down and close out. I’m in favor of closing out,” he said and suggested the close-out date of Jan. 17, 2023 — a Tuesday — due to Jan. 16 being the Martin Luther King holiday.

With this suggested date, that means all relevant agencies should complete their task force reports by that time frame, if that’s feasible. “If not, let me know, we can discuss a more reasonable timeframe to complete the reporting that we need as well as our own final report,” he said, referring to the final task force report which covers the last two to three years of the panel’s work.

And if Jan. 17, 2023 is in agreement, Talauega said he would recommend to the governor to declare the work of the task force complete on that date. “And we can all move on to do other things we are supposed to do, and not been able to do because of our obligations on the task force,” he noted.

There were no objections to Talauega’s recommendation. “I will follow-up with everyone, in case there’s a change. But for now, let’s target Jan. 17 as the last meeting of the task force and I’ll discuss it with the governor, “ he said and pointed out that a lot of people worked hard during COVID time.

“And I hate to just end without saying something at an appropriate event. Let’s continue that discussion and hopefully by Jan. 17 we’ll have a plan for an event,” he added.

In closing Talauega, on behalf of the governor, expressed appreciation to all task force members for their work and dedication. He also thanked FEMA and federal partners for their continued participation in the task force’s work as well as the federal agency’s support.  And he wished everyone a Merry Christmas — ending the 30-minute briefing.