FEMA confirms pull out of on-site personnel in American Samoa
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has confirmed the pull-out of its disaster personnel assigned to American Samoa for coronavirus related work, while the federal agency will continue to assist the territory “remotely” from two US offices.
The move by FEMA followed what is being described by local officials as a ‘fall out’ between the federal agency and ASG senior officials over the requirement by American Samoa to quarantine FEMA personnel who arrived on a FEMA flight earlier this month and another one that arrived last week.
The FEMA female staffer who arrived early this month returned back to Honolulu on the same FEMA flight, after Health Department officials learned at the Pago Pago International Airport that the female staff member with a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival — had previously tested positive.
FEMA’s pull-out has raised concerns locally with the main question from the community being, what “happened that caused FEMA to pull out its on-location personnel?” Samoa News posed this same question to FEMA, and also asked, what type of issues or problems did FEMA encounter on island, which prompted the pull-out of its staff.
“We have sought to follow all safety precautions in place, and we are grateful that American Samoa still has no COVID-19 positive cases. We were advised federal responders arriving on August 3 would be subject to 14 days mandatory quarantine,” was the response from David Passey, director of External Affairs with FEMA Region 9 based in California.
“We coordinated with American Samoa government officials prior to their arrival and were assured that with recent negative test results, they would be allowed to perform their duties,” Passey explained. “With prior coordination, other states and territories have supported the need for responders to work with precautions.”
“Our staff who arrived on August 3 were informed they would be required to fulfill the quarantine period. One FEMA responder returned to Hawaii that day and the other stayed with anticipation he could be released to perform his disaster assignment,” he explained.
There were two FEMA personnel assigned to American Samoa on the ground and they left on a FEMA flight on Monday this week, along with another official, who arrived last week and had been taken into quarantine by Health Department, according to ASG officials.
Asked if FEMA informed the governor and ASG officials about the planned pull-out and when it would occur, Passey responded, “We worked with American Samoa government officials prior to the August 3 flight and throughout last week. When our employee were still in quarantine [last] Friday, we informed the governor, director of health and director of Homeland Security that our staff would depart and that we would continue to support the territory’s COVID-19 operations remotely.”
Asked if there was any response from the governor or territorial government officials on FEMA’s pulled-out plan, Passey said, “I don’t know if there was a response from the American Samoa government officials to FEMA’s written notification but we appreciate the help offered our staff who received additional COVID tests and were able to depart on Monday [this week].”
Passey said FEMA, who had two personnel assigned to the territory, would continue to support COVID-19 operations from federal offices in Hawaii and California for American Samoa.
“We will continue to support American Samoa with information, response resources and financial reimbursement for eligible emergency work,” he said. “Many areas of the country receive federal support for COVID from staff working in various parts of the country. This will now include American Samoa.”
Additionally, “we will continue to work with American Samoa in all FEMA programs and activities, including preparedness activities, response to COVID and future disasters,” he said.
Provisions of the governor’s Seventh Amended declaration state that all travelers must provide negative COVID-19 test results within 72-hours before arrival. The traveler is required to disclose if he/she had a positive test result prior to testing negative.
“For COVID-19 related workers, quarantines will not be imposed but monitoring by the Department of Health will be conducted for 14-days,” according the amended document.
ASG officials told Samoa News this week that this has been the past practice for previous FEMA personnel and other federal officials traveling to the territory for coronavirus related work.
The governor has yet to comment publicly on the FEMA personnel pull-out nor has there been any statement from the Governor’s Office, or the ASG COVID-19 task force.