Territory still Code Blue, as the 3 COVID-19 cases are ‘transit’ not local
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — ASG Coronavirus Task Force chairman Iulogologo Joseph Pereira has confirmed that the three crew members of a container vessel who tested positive for COVID-19 are considered “transit” cases not local and American Samoa remains under Code Blue threat level, and therefore remains COVID-free.
And this means American Samoa has no locally transmitted cases, since the crew members never came on land, according to health officials, and no cases transmitted locally by the three have been discovered.
The container vessel, Fesco Askold, with three of its 17 crew members testing positive for COVID-19, will remain anchored out at sea for a minimum of seven days while discussions are ongoing regarding the unloading of the vessel’s cargo. (See Tuesday’s Samoa News edition for details.)
Responding to Samoa News inquiries, Iulogologo said Tuesday night that Health Department and Port Administration “are monitoring the situation on the vessel and will determine our next course of action.”
Samoa News understands that these two ASG departments met on Tuesday with the vessel’s local representative for discussion over the protocol for unloading cargo from the vessel, once it is allowed to come into port.
Also on Tuesday, two shipping lines — Hamburg Sud and Swire Shipping — sent out separate notices to customers regarding the status of the container vessel. The notices are similar in wording.
Hamburg Sud, which operates the container vessel, notes that all three crew members who tested positive of COVID-19 “have mild symptoms and are doing well.”
“We are in discussions with all involved parties to come up with a plan to allow the ship to dock and commence operations,” the notice states. “The safety of the local community and the crew are of paramount importance and we are working with all stakeholders to find a safe solution.”
For Swire Shipping, the company said the “vessel operator is currently working with local authorities to work out a plan to have the vessel berth and commence operations.”
Swire, which didn’t identify the vessel operator, also informed its customers that the three crew members who tested positive of COVID-19 have mild symptoms and are doing well.
A Samoa News search of Humburg Sud’s website (www.hamburgsud-line.com) for information on Fesco Askold found an interesting “news” item released on Oct. 9th — in which the company announced that it will be phasing in the container ship “Petkum” on Nov. 19th in Long Beach, California and “Petkum” will be replacing the “Fesco Askold” which will leave the service after discharge in Oakland on Nov. 21st. (The company’s news item is posted to the online version of this story on www.samoanews.com)
For the Port of Pago Pago, it was re-opened before 7:30 a.m on Tuesday with a lot of traffic in and out of the dock. Samoa News observed workers heading to the port wearing masks. Several workers arrived around 6:45 a.m and waited just outside the entrance before the port was re-opened.
Speaking on KVZK-TV on Monday night, DoH Epidemiologist Dr. Aifili John Tufa explained the department’s procedures and protocols including conducting tests for the vessel’s crew members.
The three who tested positive, went through a second round of testing using DoH GeneXpert machine, “which is a more sensitive machine that can give out more accurate results” and the second test also came back positive, said Dr. Tufa, who stressed that all proper protocols were implemented to protect the territory.
“We would like to assure everyone that as of right now, American Samoa is still COVID free. Because these individuals never set foot on island, we are not categorizing them, as our local cases,” he said.
“However, these cases are going to be classified as transit cases on a vessel. So, we will be reporting them, but not as local cases. And because of this, we will not be recommending to move on to Code Yellow” and remain at Code Blue, he said, referring to Code Yellow, when there is one-confirmed case and new restrictions are put in place.
DoH “believes that with our protocol in place, everyone that might have come or might have been exposed to the crew members or to the Department of Health personnel during the testing, all of them have been identified and now have been moved to quarantine,” he said.
Asked for comments that these are “transit cases”, Iulogologo confirmed to Samoa News, “These three cases have been defined as — Transit Cases — as they were not local residents but rather crew on the vessel.”
Regarding the current threat level, Iulogologo said “Code Blue is still the threat level at this juncture while the 11 personnel are presently being quarantined. If the situation changes, the public will be informed forthwith.”
Health officials had said earlier this week that the 11 personnel — 9 of them from DoH and two from Port Administration — are quarantined for 14-days and will undergo more testing in the coming days, before they are released from quarantine.
Once the three cases were confirmed as positive, Dr Tufa explained on KVZK-TV that it is required under the International Health Regulation protocol to inform the previous ports where this vessel had docked.
“So upon learning of the results, we did call the Ministry of Health in Samoa” and spoke directly to Samoa’s Director General of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, according to Dr. Tufa.
Samoa government said that it was Dr. Tufa who called Leausa.
The vessel left California on Oct. 24th and headed to Tahiti, where it was for one-day and left Nov. 3rd, for Samoa, where it was on Nov. 7th, before heading to Pago Pago this past Sunday.