Health officials say they are not taking risks with non-infectious case
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Health officials on the COVID Task Force fielded a lot of questions from its members Tuesday concerning the American Samoa’s first positive COVID case, which they point out is “likely non-infectious” but they say they are not taking any risks.
Since the positive result was publicly announced by Governor Lemanu Mauga on KVZK-TV on Sunday, the male passenger who came down with his family on the 3rd repatriation flight on April 15th has since been removed from the quarantine site at the Tradewinds Hotel. He and his family members, who tested negative, are being placed in isolation. The male passenger had contracted COVID-19 last year, has since recovered and showed no symptoms of the disease.
Just like the rest of the 223 passengers on the 3rd repat, he underwent three COVID tests — first before he was allowed entry into the quarantine site and twice during the quarantine period in Hawaii. All three tests yielded negative results. The male individual was also fully vaccinated for COVID-19 this year before entering quarantine in Hawaii.
SO WHY A POSITIVE TEST NOW?
According to COVID research, some individuals who have survived COVID-19 have shown to have remnants or residue of the virus in their nasopharynx for weeks or months after a person’s immune system has attacked and destroyed the virus.
Department of Health Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Aifili John Tufa and Director of the VA Clinic Dr. Fred Uhrle Jr., explained to Task Force members that the machines used for the polymerase chain reaction or PCR test to test for COVID are very sensitive that it can pick up these remnants of the previous infection. While the test is sensitive, there are various factors relating to how the nasal swabs were collected that could have made a difference.
For example, a swab taken from the front of the nasal cavity as opposed to one taken from the back of the nose or a sample taken after the patient has sneezed may produce different results as it may bring down these remnants.
In determining that this traveler is not infectious, several things were considered:
1) laboratory testing, 2) COVID19 history, whether there was a previous infection, and 3) exposure risk prior to traveling.
This information was discussed locally among the DOH, LBJ, and VA Medical Team with consultation with CDC’s Regional Career Epidemiology Field Officer and CDC’s Regional Consultant for the National COVID19 Task Force.
Dr. Tufa said the medical community is “confident” that this case is “non-infectious” given the history of prior infection.
In this case, the male passenger has not shown any symptoms suggestive of a new infection since admission into quarantine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend retesting these patients within three months of their first bout of COVID as long as they do not develop new symptoms.
Dr. Tufa says the health community is still being cautious so that there is no room for error. “Even though we are saying this is a historical case, it’s not infectious, we're still following our protocols which is in line with what CDC recommends for this type of [case],” he added.
Those protocols include removing the male passenger and his family from being quarantined with the rest of the 3rd repat passengers and placing them in isolation for 14 days under the watchful eyes of the DOH and the LBJ Hospital.
Government workers who came in close contact with the male passengers are also being quarantined as a precautionary measure.
The rest of the 3rd repat passengers will be tested a second time for COVID this week and the results will determine whether their quarantine period will be extended. (Samoa News was told the repat #3 passengers at the Tradewinds were tested a second time yesterday afternoon.)
Dr. Tufa explained that the exposure of the male passenger to the rest of the passengers is very low to minimal, from the time they were quarantined under strict rules in Hawaii, transported directly to the Hawaii airport with minimal contact with others, left the plane at the Tafuna airport and put onto buses and then transported directly to the Tradewinds Hotel where they were placed into their rooms upon arrival.
The male passenger’s family will be tested at the end of the 14-day quarantine period. DOH and the Task Force will continue to update the public when new information on this matter becomes available.