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UPDATE: Territories have needs that are different and unique

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga
Governor explains territorial virus concerns to Pres. Trump

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — “We need your help Mr. President,” declared Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga in his Mar. 25th letter to US President Donald Trump, in which the governor shared concerns and the impact to American Samoa due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The governor points out that “American Samoa sunsets America’s day and as our nation’s Capital winds down its day, ours begins” in the South Pacific — some 10,000 miles from Washington D.C. — “subjecting us to the clutches of tyranny of distance manifested by huge economic disadvantage and magnified by the gross lack of natural developable resources and obstructionist federal policies.”

He said he’s “compelled to appeal” to Trump because the needs of the territories “particularly those of American Samoa, are not accorded the same fierce and aggressive attention prevalent with the states,” the letter states.

While it’s understandable that the states’ populations dwarf American Samoa’s 60,000 residents, the governor points out that “our health care system nowhere near matches those of the states” and that the nearest US hospital is in Hawaii — 2,300 miles away connected by one airline (that he didn’t identify by name), which provides flights “with airfares five times higher per nautical mile.”

Lolo applauded Trump’s leadership and that of US Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the federal COVID-19 Task Force, for their vision to stay ahead of this pandemic.

He also commended Trump’s commitment to transparency through the weekly briefings for all US governors.

“However, for me personally, the briefings do not accord sufficient time for us territorial governors to articulate our needs because ours are different and unique and would be deemed outside of the realm of the State’s needs,” he said.

Lolo suggested holding a briefing for governors from the territories that “would give us the opportunity to fully advance our needs as we are not part of the contiguous States.”

The governor informed Trump that American Samoa was used as a refueling stop for the Norwegian Jewel cruise ship, as well as a transit point for Americans stranded in Samoa and evacuated to Pago Pago for last Thursday night’s flight to Honolulu. (See Samoa News edition Mar. 27th for details.)

The governor said he has submitted to the federal government, American Samoa’s Response and Action Plan, “inclusive of its financial needs to combat COVID-19” and is waiting for a decision.

“While your collaborative efforts with Congress to avail resources to States and Territories are appreciated, I fear greatly that the distribution formula will provide the level of funding needed to effectively contain the spread of the COVID-19 in American Samoa,” he said.

“Our economy continues to plunge deeper into the abyss as our economic base is comprised by the StarKist [cannery] and the America Samoa Government,” he added.

See Samoa News edition Mar. 27th and today, on the latest COVID-19 federal funding press releases news from Congresswoman Aumua Amata and the US Interior Department.


Lolo submitted to the US Department of Interior and copies to other federal officials the territory’s Response and Action Plan to combat the coronavirus pandemic, saying that the territory is “highly vulnerable because our current health care system grossly lacks the capacity to address the heath care fallout from epidemics and pandemics.” (See Samoa News edition Mar. 18.)

The plan also includes the economic assessment of the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak on American Samoa’s economy as well as the local COVID-19 budget proposal.

The plan also includes the basis for the financial plan development. “Specially, testing kits, protective gear, masks, equipment, gowns, medical supplies and physical facilities are needed to quarantine and isolate suspected cases.”

It notes that American Samoa’s remote geographic location elevates the level of the cost of planned tasks and activities to implement the protocols, advisories, and guidance outlined in the action plan.

Additionally, transporting supplies is a constant challenge and disruption of service will effectively create a true health crisis for American Samoa. And there’s already a noticeable shortage in goods because vessels are being impacted by the coronavirus.

According to the plan, American Samoa’s long-term approach to containing and managing the spread of the coronavirus is the deployment of telecommunications systems and technologies in order to connect local patients with highly trained, off-island health care provides.

Furthermore it’s possible to provide the territory’s residents 24-hour access to doctors in Hawaii via Tele-Health Care Mobile and web-based application. And the cost to implement this service is estimated to be up to $1.09 million.

American Samoa’s proposed budget request totals $16.9 million — which covers personnel costs ($2.17 million); contractural services ($1.01 million); equipment ($4.82 million); Tele-Health ($1.09 million); supplies ($1.56 million); All Others ($3.35 million) and facilities $2.39 million) - for three ASG departments:

•     Health Department - $5.70 million

•     LBJ Medical Center - $8.44 million

•     Public Works Department - $2.82 million.

The plan also provides a breakdown for each of the department’s budget proposals, covering costs — to LBJ and DoH — for among other things — recruiting additional medical professionals; and more supplies such as masks, gowns and other protective gear.

DPW’s proposed budget covers the costs of equipment at $430,000 and $2.39 million for facilities  — which is costs of construction and renovation for quarantine facilities.

DPW is charged with overseeing the construction of the new quarantine building behind the Tafuna Community Health Center and the upgrade of the Veterans Memorial Center at the Tafuna Industrial Park that was completed before the arrival last Thursday night of the Hawaiian Airlines flight from Honolulu.

Click on attachment to download full document