No firm date set as COVID Task Force plans for borders opening
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The government’s COVID-19 Task Force is making plans to ensure that American Samoa is fully prepared as the territory prepares to open its borders and in the meantime, the Task Force is taking another look at how they handle requests for service animals to be included on repat flights. There is as yet no firm date set for a reopening, according to a Task Force press release.
At a meeting of the Task Force on Monday, June 7, 2021 officials of the LBJ hospital and Department of Health reported to the Task Force inventories of their medication, supplies and equipment for the care of a patient with COVID symptoms.
A working group within the Task Force has been selected to look into guidelines for travelers to follow when flights are allowed to open between the two Samoa. Two of the main requirements that the Task Force wants enforced are for a traveler to be fully vaccinated and submit a negative COVID testing before coming to American Samoa.
These are the same requirements that will be mandated when Hawaiian Airlines is allowed to operate limited flights when the repatriation program ends.
While the Task Force understands there are no COVID cases in Samoa, the main concerns are the travelers from other countries with COVID cases, such as New Zealand, who are flying into Samoa and may decide to travel to American Samoa.
Lt. Gov. Talauega Eleasalo Ale, who is the chairman of the COVID Task Force, asked the working group to provide their full guidelines and recommendations for the full Task Force to review by the next meeting. Another working group led by Public Works Director Faleosigna Voight is looking at the feasibility of a full size quarantine site that could house as many as 300 travelers. The review by the group would also be looking at retrofitting current government buildings and possible funding for such a quarantine site.
The working group is also to submit their recommendations at the next upcoming meeting of the Task Force.
Currently, the government is renovating an airport hangar as a quarantine site for travelers needing further medical review by the Department of Health. Voight reported that they’re looking at completing renovations by the end of this month.
REPAT 6.0 UPDATE
At the COVID-19 Task Force meeting on Monday June 7th, AS Department of Health Director Motusa reported that 173 residents have since checked in at the Ohana Waikiki East hotel over the weekend with 100 more expected to arrive bringing the total number to approximately 276. The results of 72-hour swab tests required prior to intake at the quarantine site were ALL NEGATIVE. Among those checked in are also 4 dialysis patients.
Accommodations for service dogs were also discussed and the Hawaii team has been working diligently with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture to be able to accommodate travelers with such animals by the first repatriation flight next month –– tentatively scheduled for July 10th.
(Samoa News points out that a local resident filed a complaint in April this year, for declaratory and injunctive relief for violations of the Americans With Disability Act (ADA) against American Samoa Government officials in connection with ASG’s ongoing repatriation program and the resident’s allegation of being unable to board a repat flight with service dogs. See story elsewhere in this issue.)
The mechanical issues experienced by the outbound medical charter on June 1st that resulted in an overnight delay was also on the agenda. Homeland Security Director Samana Ve’ave’a pointed to the need for a quarantine facility able to accommodate a large number of travelers. The unexpected delay resulted in pilots and crew being given COVID-19 tests (which returned negative results) and spending the evening at a local hotel to meet federally mandated rest hours.
Had the COVID-19 tests returned positive results, over 250 travelers, pilots and crew would have been subject to quarantine at an alternate facility due to the Tradewinds facility being fully occupied by recent repatriates. Talauega asked that the Department of Public Works and relevant agencies meet to discuss options and funding opportunities to propose a quarantine facility that can accommodate a larger capacity in the event of a similar incident in the future
Lt. Gov. Talauega also brought the possibility of loosening quarantine restrictions and opening of borders between Samoa and American Samoa and to the attention of the medical committee. Speaking as a member of the medical team, Dr Saleapaga stated “the committee would need more time to outline revised guidelines and policies to present to the Task force for discussion of options.” The GAR asked that the medical committee provide recommendations with a potential implementation by July.
As of June 7, 2021, 63.9% or 23,588 residents eligible to get vaccinated for COVID-19 have received at least one dose. Of that number, 56.1% or 20,712 people are now fully vaccinated. The data includes the new age group ages 12-15 who are now qualified to get the Pfizer vaccine. A total of 172 have received their first shot and 7 of them are fully vaccinated. In terms of the total population of American Samoa, this translates into 49.8% of people receiving at least one shot and 43.7% are fully vaccinated.
This past week, the vaccination campaign went out for its second weekend in the villages. For the village outreaches in Leone and Aua, a total of 126 were vaccinated – 62 in Leone and 64 in Aua. Of the total number who got the shot on Saturday, 94 were for the first shot.
DOH epidemiologist Dr. Aifili John Tufa says there were competing events that day – such as the bingo and raffle in Leone as well as graduation celebrations – which may contributed to the low turnout in the village sites. Still, the Task Force is glad to have reached 126 people on Saturday.
This Saturday’s village vaccination outreach will be at the Leone Catholic Church Hall for the west side residents and DYWA Pago Gym for east side villagers. For more information about this week’s vaccination schedule, please dial 219.
(Source: COVID-19 Task Force press release)