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Gov. reveals a movement to block American Samoa’s restrictions

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“Be patient,” he says as we work to protect lives of people here

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — While Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga is proposing to extend the current coronavirus emergency declaration, including the continued closing of borders for another 30-days, he says he has already been contacted by a Hawaii attorney who warned of a “movement” to block American Samoa’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Lolo made the remarks at Sunday’s government COVID-19 Task Force meeting at the Emergency Operations Center, where the Health Department wasn’t able to discuss recommendations, which include lifting limited restrictions on business operating hours and church services.

The governor notes that there are still a lot of concerns and criticism locally and from off island, even from attorneys over current restrictions. For example, he said that it was on Saturday that he received a call from an attorney in Hawaii, saying that they are “organizing a movement to block what we are doing here.”

Lolo didn’t provide additional details about the attorney or specific information on what the concern is but national news outlets have reported groups and organizations defying their state or local governments over continued closure of businesses and other operations. However, many states have slowly rolled back restrictions — in phases — reopening certain types of businesses.

Lolo did say that, according to the lawyer, they are representing the move by the U.S. President to re-open the nation’s economy. He says this is also the feeling and opinion of some of the local leaders — referring to reopening the local economy.

However, he said it’s the ASG task force and those involved that make the final decision on the next step to be taken. He also says that what’s important for the public, including those off island, to understand is that this deadly virus is an issue that there’s no guessing as to its impact on human lives.

For those off island, he said they are well protected in Hawaii and the US mainland — where there is not just one medical center but many to choose from when a person is infected with this virus.

But in American Samoa, he said there’s only one hospital, with less than 200 beds. And if the territory gets its first case, that means the entire population could end up in the hospital, with the spread of the virus.

And as the leader, Lolo said he needs to take this into serious consideration.

“Everyone’s life is important to me,” he said, and reiterated that those living in Hawaii and the mainland, they have many choices of hospitals to provide care for them and those hospitals have excellent medical care.

Therefore, “be patient,” as “we all work to protect the lives of people here,” the governor said. “The main goal is to take every step necessary to prevent the spread of the virus to the territory.”

Lolo said the task force has received many good recommendations on the next step for American Samoa and they will present them to the him on Wednesday to prepare the next 30-day declaration when the current one ends on May 31st.

He noted that some of the recommendations include changes in local restrictions.

Later in the meeting during the DoH presentation, Health director Motusa Tuileama Nua was prepared to present recommendations from physicians at DoH, LBJ Medical Center and the federal VA Clinic. (The DOH presentation always includes recommendations, which are announced and explained by Motusa.)

The slide for the presentation was already on the screen but task force chairman Iuogologo Joseph Pereira asked them not to share the recommendations to prevent public confusion at this point.

Among the recommendations made by physicians at DoH, LBJ and the local VA clinic are extending border closure to June 30th; relaxing business operating hours to 5a.m. to 8p.m. while allowing take out orders up to 10p.m; and transportation businesses to operate from 5a.m. to 8p.m — except for medical emergencies and buses under contract with StarKist.

Other recommendations:

•     re-open parks, beaches (water sports), tennis court, gyms, and golf course from 5a.m. to 8pm. for healthy recreational and sports activities;

•     change public gatherings, limited to groups of 20 people in an enclosed environment;

•     allow church — Saturday and Sunday — to hold service with social distancing and hygiene practices etc. — wear mask, hand sanitizing, wiping pews, symptomatic people to stay home.

•     COVID-19 Code Yellow Drill — response to a confirmed COVID-19 case from port of entry with tentative date of June 5th

•     consider Sadie’s by the Sea hotel as a “standby” quarantine and alternate care facility (ACF) site in case of surge beyond current DoH capacity

•     resume regular flights for Manu’a.