Passengers on repat flights will now be prioritized by departure date
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — After its latest COVID Task Force meeting on Monday, March 22, 2021, the COVID Task Force issued a press release after making several policy changes aimed at prioritizing resources for the ‘legitimately’ stranded residents while other categories of travelers will be required to pay in full the travel and quarantine costs for future repatriation flights.
The Task Force estimates that of the nearly 2,000 people who have registered for repatriation flights on the Department of Health website, less than half of these registrants are legitimately stranded residents — those who departed the territory in 2019 and early 2020 before the border closure. COVID-19 Task Force Chairman Lt. Governor Talauega Eleasalo Ale said the next flights would focus on bringing these stranded residents home.
The Lt. Governor, who is also the Governor’s Authorized Representative (GAR) stated, “The border closure that separated families for nearly a year resulted in extreme financial and emotional hardship for stranded residents and their families. The government, in a gesture to help alleviate stranded residents’ financial hardship due to the unplanned border closure, will assist in their repatriation by providing no-cost quarantine until all our legitimate stranded residents have returned home. They must still agree to pay for the reduced cost share of $500 upon signing a promissory note prior to entering quarantine.”
Only 23 out of the 159 passengers on the first repatriation flight have covered their cost share either through cash payments or Medicaid coverage. For the March flight, the Task Force has received cost share payments from only 14 passengers out of the 188 who made the flight.
This has created a deficit in the Medicaid local budget of $261,000. The Medicaid agency’s local budget was increased by Governor Lemanu Peleti Palepoi Sialega Mauga to accommodate the prepayment of the flight charters with the intention that passengers or other eligible coverage will reimburse the Medicaid budget by paying their cost share.
The GAR added, “The prepayment policy will guarantee that passengers pay their cost share to be able to enter quarantine in Honolulu for a chance to get on the flight to return home. We cannot continue to have people not pay for the flight otherwise we cannot support the costs of the flight.”
The Task Force will utilize Immigration’s IT system that has the documented departure dates of all people who entered and departed the territory. The DOH list will be resorted to in order to prioritize “stranded” passengers — allowing the longest stranded passengers to travel home first.
Medicaid referral passengers who travelled on the medical charters in 2020 and 2021 will also be prioritized by chronological order based on the date they departed.
UPDATED COST SHARE PAYMENT POLICIES
“Stranded Passengers” – will be given the option to pay later, but must sign the promissory note before entering quarantine. “Stranded Passengers” include those who left American Samoa between March 26, 2020 and January 1, 2019. According to the latest review of the repatriation registry by the Attorney General, there are a total of 986 travelers that are deemed Stranded Passengers.
“Medical Referral Passengers” – This group includes Medicaid or LBJ referral plus their escorts. Don’t need to pay – cost share is waived and paid by Medicaid.
“Others” – All other passengers who do not qualify as either a “Stranded Passenger” or “Medical Referral Passenger” must prepay the cost share for the flight before entering quarantine. Certain passengers within this group (non-residents and certain residents traveling for business or other personal reasons), will also be invoiced at the end of quarantine and required to pay the full cost of quarantine. Based on information from the first two repatriation flights, the cost of quarantine on an individual basis is around $4,800.
Payment of the flight cost share and quarantine costs can be made via PayPal or at the local Revenue office located at the EOB in Utulei. More information will be available once the government’s PayPal page goes live. Passengers will be informed about these payments and other travel procedures when the DOH contacts them that they are on the flight.
For any questions, please contact the EOC at 699-3800, or the Medicaid agency at 699-4779.
Starting in the May flight, dialysis patients will be required to get their vaccination shots for the COVID-19 before they can be approved for the repatriation flight. The Task Force’s medical team in Hawaii has reported that two of the dialysis patients confirmed for the April flight have been fully vaccinated. They will receive their treatments at the quarantine site through the US Renal Care Home Hemodialysis Center. The Task Force is working with Hope Dialysis to provide treatment services once these patients arrive in American Samoa.
FLIGHTS FROM SAMOA AND OTHER AREAS
There are quite a few requests from residents and businesses for charters from Samoa and other areas such as Tonga and Fiji. The Task Force is looking at having flights on March 28th and 31st to and from Samoa for residents who need to apply or renew their US visas so that they can make the April 15 repatriation flight.
The Task Force has received a request for a chartered flight for Fletcher’s Construction to bring down engineers to oversee the ASPA Eastside. The flight may also include essential workers for other local businesses. The flight is tentatively planned for early April.
The Task Force is also looking at a repatriation flight from Tonga also in April to bring stranded residents to American Samoa. This has not been finalized.
MARCH 10 REPATRIATION UPDATE
On Monday, March 22, 187 passengers of the 2nd repatriation flight on March 10 were discharged from the quarantine site at the Tradewinds Hotel and reunited with their families.
This is after undergoing a fourth and final COVID testing — which all yielded negative results. One passenger which makes the 188 total passenger count for the 2nd repatriation flight was transferred to the LBJ Hospital and was medevaced to New Zealand on Monday for medical treatment not related to COVID.
As of March 22, 2021, 51.8% of the eligible populations have received at least one dose of vaccine and 36.9% fully vaccinated. Data from the Department of Health is showing that the older age groups who are at high risk of serious and/or life-threatening complications from COVID-19 continue to show positive increases in vaccination. Vaccination records show that 66.9% of the 41-50 age group, 67% of the 51-60 age group, and 69.2% of the 61 and older age group have received at least one shot.
The possibility of herd immunity in the near future and the revision of local DOH policies with regard to quarantine requirements in American Samoa were discussed given recent CDC recommendations for persons that have been fully vaccinated. The GAR noted, however, that American Samoa would continue to take extra precautions and a more conservative approach to quarantine measures. Thus far, American Samoa’s approach has been successful in keeping individuals who have tested positive isolated from the travel bubble and preventing the virus from entering the community.
“Until such a time where the medical community feels confident enough and comfortable with our vaccination rates, we will continue to do what is necessary to repatriate our residents and keep our community safe from the virus.”