COVID Task Force looks ahead — How will repat continue as costs loom?
Pago Pago, AMRICAN SAMOA — Lt Governor Talauega Eleasalo Ale gave the COVID Task Force an outlook on its repatriation operations, which will cease in a few months’ time as leaders look to opening up the borders under strict guidelines in order to continue to keep American Samoa COVID free.
At the latest meeting of the Task Force Monday, Apr. 26, Talauega, who is the Governor’s Authorized Representative (GAR) expressed appreciation on behalf of Governor Lemanu Peleti Palepoi Sialega Mauga for all the work the Task Force has done over the past months.
Such work included bringing home safely more than 600 residents from Hawaii and the US mainland. He acknowledged those on the Task Force who have been members of the group since last year and the importance of the partnership between the government and private sector members on the Task Force. But he said there’s still more work to be done and for the group to be vigilant and focus on their main goal of keeping COVID-19 away from American Samoa.
“We know it’s not just us but because of the help of our Lord God — whose name is always to be praised for anything we do — as we are mere servants and his tools to serve our people,” said the Lt Governor.
Following his brief remarks, Talauega announced changes to the management of pre-travel quarantine operation in Hawaii and the ramping up of local manpower in order to increase the number of flights in the summer months ahead.
The Lt Governor challenged the Task Force and the Department of Health to stay abreast of CDC recommendations and vaccination literature that might allow for the further relaxing of quarantine restrictions.
It should be noted that the most recent April repatriation flight lowered the number of post-travel quarantine in American Samoa to 7 days from 12. This is also the repatriation flight where the non-contagious positive father and family members have been placed in isolation where they are scheduled to be discharged this week. Aside from the father and his family, the rest of the passengers of the 3rd repat flight have been released from quarantine after all their COVID tests yielded negative results.
If all goes as planned with the remaining repat flights, Talauega explained that Hawaiian Airlines will be allowed to open its operations and travelers will be able to book directly with the private airline. Travelers who wish to enter American Samoa however will be required to provide proof that they have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19.
Talauega explained that Hawaiian Airline flights will continue on a limited basis and the Task Force will have a say on the requirements for travelers coming down to American Samoa.
He reiterated a point made in previous meetings that the Task Force cannot continue to do repatriation flights because of the costs.
The GAR reminded health officials to continue to monitor new CDC requirements and to mirror these requirements in American Samoa as closely as possible considering that unlike other states and territories, American Samoa is COVID free.
The Lt Governor also announced the streamlining of repat flight confirmation processes to address complaints from the community.
The entire list of approximately 2,000+ registered individuals are to be vetted first by the Department of Health to ensure all medical verifications are met. The names are then sent to the Attorney General’s Office for a complete review of their residency and travel documents. The final step is sending that list to the medical team in Hawaii who then contact the passengers regarding the quarantine process in Hawaii.
Talaeuga said members of the public are complaining because some are promising their family members that they are on the upcoming flight, but when those family members do not get a call from the medical team in Hawaii they then complain to the offices of the Governor and Lt. Governor.
Except for a few people at DOH and the Governor’s Office, the majority of the Task Force do not know who is on the final approved list that is sent to the medical team in Hawaii.
Talauega conveyed the message to Task Force members that they cannot promise what they cannot deliver. Rather they should tell the people the truth — that all the Task Force member can do is confirm that a person’s name is on the repatriation list if the traveler has registered, but Task Force members have absolutely no say on who is approved to be on each flight.
4TH REPATRIATION FLIGHT
Travelers confirmed for the 4th repatriation flight will be starting the quarantine process this week at the Ohana Waikiki East Hotel, flight is scheduled for May 12, 2021.
Payment for the repat flights are collected at the ASG Treasury or online on the government’s website "https://www.americansamoa.gov/" but the payment form is picked up from the Medicaid Office at the second floor of the ASTCA building in Tafuna.
Relatives of those who have been confirmed to be on the repat flight can visit the Medicaid Office or contact them at 699-4777 for more details.
Lt Gov Talauega also acknowledged the partnership the Task Force has had with organizations such as the CDC Foundation and the Pacific Island Health Officers’ Association (PIHOA).
Members of CDC Foundation and PIHOA are assisting in the quarantine process in Hawaii. Talauega wants the collaboration between these organizations and the Task Force to continue, adding that their contributions are vital in the continued success of the repatriation program.