Protecting Am Samoa remains the mission of COVID task force
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — For the new year 2022, the American Samoa COVID-19 Taskforce’s primary mission remains unchanged and that is “to protect the people of American Samoa from the devastating impacts of COVID.”
This is according the COVID-19 Task Force Operations Report 2021 released last week by the Governor’s Office, that includes a brief summary of “Our Path Forward” subtitle of the report, as the world continues to fight against the deadly pandemic with the new omicron virus, which has reached some nations in the Pacific.
The task force said that its mission to keep the territory safe, “requires careful balancing of competing interests, and a constant re-examination of procedures to ensure that our efforts do not result in unnecessary pain and suffering for our people.”
As the protocol last year, the Taskforce’s work in 2022 will be data-driven and rely on the advice of the local medical community, including federal partners. “We will also take into account unique aspects of our community and Samoan culture,” the report said, but didn’t elaborate further on this issue.
The report cited three primary focus areas in 2022 for the task force “to ensure protection of our people from COVID and of our freedoms and individual rights.”
The first one, is pushing the territory’s vaccination rates to meet and exceed 90% of the entire population. The report reiterated what the task force had said last year and that is, medical experts both locally and abroad overwhelmingly agree that vaccination is the best way to protect against COVID.
“As of the end of 2021, 72.9 % of our total population were fully vaccinated while 80.4 % received at least one shot,” the report said.
The second primary focus area for the task force in 2022 is to “continue to monitor the territory’s borders to ensure that travel between American Samoa and other destinations is safe.
“While a full closure of borders is perhaps the best method to ensure protection against the spread of COVID in American Samoa, such an approach is not feasible,” the task force explained.
“Nor is it necessary given the availability of safe vaccines, improvement in testing methods and activation of the Talofa Pass system, which allows us to screen all incoming passengers,” it says.
“We have also improved our quarantine capabilities with the construction and improvement of additional facilities to accommodate travelers for examination and isolation,” according to the report.
It also says that “our quarantine and medical personnel have gained valuable experience in 2021 on how to screen incoming passengers as well as operating quarantine facilities. These improvements will allow us to carefully reopen our borders to allow more flights into American Samoa from Hawaii and other destinations”.
The third focus area in 2022 is LBJ Medical Center. “We need to be sure that our only hospital has the capabilities to handle COVID cases,” it says and this requires an assessment of medical personnel and facilities, equipment, and supplies, including medicines.
“As we continue to open up our borders to more flights from Apia and Hawaii, there is an increased risk that COVID will spread to our community,” the report said.
Additionally, the task force will work closely with LBJ and the medical community to ensure that LBJ has sufficient medical doctors, nurses and other personnel to serve local residents.
For example, last December, the task force helped LBJ by chartering a flight from Fiji, which brought medical personnel for LBJ and the Health Department. Furthermore, there’s a need to work closely with LBJ to ensure that medical equipment is regularly maintained and certified for patients that require them.
“We believe that improvement in these three areas will allow American Samoa to remain safe from COVID while slowly returning our island community to some sense of normalcy,” the report states.
“We know this is a significant undertaking that cannot be accomplished without the support and assistance of our entire community. We are confident that with your support and protection of our loving God and Lord Jesus Christ, we will accomplish our collective mission of keeping American Samoa safe from COVID,” it points out.
Other issues cited in the report are “local expenses” pertaining to COVID-19 operations. Samoa News has previously reported, that the task force report summarizes COVID-19 operations costs totaling just over $40.86 million with $27.7 million — or 70% — paid to local vendors and $13.2 million (or 30%) spent on off-island costs.
Some of the “local expenses” summarized in the report — that didn’t include payments for off-island vendors — includes nearly $5.5 million in overtime personnel costs that was paid to numerous frontline departments and staff involved in the COVID-19 operations in 2021.
“The COVID-19 operations were truly a government wide effort that required all hands-on deck and many hours spent in addition to and beyond regular work duties,” it says and cited ASG departments and offices involved.
The report also gave a summary of the “Sweepstakes and Protect AS One” festival last year for which $247,171 was spent on the first vaccination incentives in the months leading into the limited commercial flight phase of the operations.
Vaccinated residents of the Territory were automatically included in drawings to be eligible for prize and cash giveaways. After the sweepstakes eligibility period, a culminating event “Vaccinate to Celebrate'' in collaboration with the private sector and as part of the DoH “Protect AS One” vaccination campaign, organized to provide a family fun event to the community, local food vendors, allowing for vaccinations to be administered on site, and more prize giveaways to vaccinated attendees.
Vendors for this project included Klaod Solutions, Kabani Kreations, IBC & Tutuila Store.
Also summarized in the report is the “$100 Incentive” where $1.79 million was paid to 17,000-plus residents, eligible for the popular $100 incentive, which gave parents and their children an opportunity to receive cash payments for both first and second doses.
Two different eligibility or incentive periods were announced in both August and as part of the school-based mass vaccination incentive in December.
“Consequently, the turnout from the community in these months saw a significant increase in doses administered with the December incentive period making it one of the most successful months of the entire year,” it says.
“Although met with some criticism, vaccination incentives have been a popular tool to promote vaccinations in the United States amid widespread misinformation and hesitancy,” the report points out.
The report also confirmed that just over $2.47 million was spent on capital improvement projects relating to COVID-19. It says that this funding allocation was “utilized to construct Community and Student Learning Centers as preventive and mitigating control measures in case of a potential COVID-19 outbreak in the Territory.”
And that these sites are currently being used as quarantine facilities to accommodate passengers with comfortable settings during their quarantine periods and especially for families with young children spending extended isolation periods at the Department of Health’s Alternate Care Facilities in Tafuna.
Another facility constructed at the Airport will become available for use this month.
The report identified vendors involved, and includes Nana’s Construction, APECS, H&H Inc, ASPA, ASTCA, and PJ Corporation.
According to the report nearly $2.3 million was utilized for rental costs of tents, chairs, and tables at each of the quarantine sites at Tradewinds Hotel, Fatu O Aiga, Sadie’s by the Sea, Alternate Care Facility, and at the airport for both departure and arrivals.
Vendors include Industrial Gases, Island Rentals, Pentagon, and Skyview.