• By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Administration slammed for lack of clear action to prevent coronavirus outbreak on Guam

Amid global panic over coronavirus, how will Guam handle a possible outbreak on island? The local government’s strategy, if any, is vague and scattered, according to critics.

“I am convinced that the Department of Public Health and Social Services (DPHSS) is working very closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Guam Memorial Hospital Authority, the airport and other stakeholders in the community, to ensure that our response is exactly as CDC recommends, and will be implemented smoothly,” Sen. Therese Terlaje said.

However, Terlaje is not confident Guam has a unified plan to protect the island’s point of entry.

She said there is no clarity as to who is taking the lead to ensure that travelers are being screened before they are allowed to board a flight to Guam.

“I still believe that there should be a high-level effort by the governor and our agencies to seek the cooperation of the federal agencies and the airlines to increase screening prior to boarding any airplane headed toward Guam,” Terlaje said. “This remains necessary because the Customs and Quarantine Agency on Guam is going to do the physical screening of temperature and interviews of suspected exposed travelers, which will not apply to all travelers.”

Terlaje said the local government needs to find creative ways to prevent an infected person from landing on Guam.

“We were told by a doctor from DPHSS that connecting flights to Guam from China to the U.S. are being rerouted,” Terlaje said. “It’s still my understanding that passengers from China to the CNMI and the Philippines are being allowed transit to Guam. It would help to know they are being screened.”

The World Health Organization in Thursday declared the coronavirus outbreak a public-health emergency of international, following reports of a first person-to-person transmission in the United States, indicating that the respiratory virus is a significant threat beyond China, where it originated last month.

Other affected countries include Japan, Korea and the Philippines.

In China, the National Health Commission has announced that as of Jan. 30, the total number of confirmed Wuhan coronavirus cases in mainland China had risen to 9,692.

The death toll in mainland China has now reached 213, with 42 new deaths occurring in Hubei province -- the epicenter of the outbreak, and one in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang.

The Guam Republican Party slammed the administration for its apparent passivity and lack of contingency plans.

“What we have yet to see is leadership from Adelup stepping up and addressing the people of Guam with not just updates, but assurances,” the Republican Party said in a statement. “What we have heard is an executive level discussion where only elected officials would be invited to listen to updates, yet there has yet to be an address to the community in general. Leaders lead, and at a time of such uncertainty, our island needs leadership.”

The party said it raises a concern “when there are no answers being presented to the people."

“Are our air and seaports ready in the event a case enters our island? We don’t know, because our leadership isn’t saying anything,” the Republican Party said. “Is the Guam Memorial Hospital ready in the event of an outbreak? Once again, we don’t know because leadership is busy focusing more on photo ops, and less on being transparent.”

This challenging time calls for “leadership and not assumptions. We need answers and not press releases. As the old saying goes, ‘if you want to lead, be a leader. If you want people to be liked, sell ice cream.’ Right now, the people want leadership, not ice cream.”

In the CNMI, Gov. Ralph Torres has sought authority from the federal government to impose a ban on the entry of Chinese travelers.

Following a Friday briefing on coronavirus, Vice Speaker Telena Cruz Nelson has reconsidered her earlier request for the Guam International Airport Authority to suspend all flights coming from countries that have confirmed cases of the disease.

Nelson said the CDC and airport officials have provided assurances that passengers boarding flights to Guam from countries with confirmed cases of coronavirus are being screened before boarding and upon arriving on island.

“While our island is fortunate to not see any confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, we must acknowledge that many of Guam’s regional neighbors and tourism markets do have confirmed cases and, it was only prudent of us to consider all preventative measures,” Nelson said.

“In light of the many forces coming together to ensure our island and people are protected, I have humbly reconsidered asking the airport to suspend flights,” she added.

However, Nelson added, Guam should still consider additional measures to prevent the outbreak.

Guam’s health care sector is not equipped to handle any possible coronavirus outbreak, according to Dr. Vince Akimoto, a family doctor at American Medical Clinic.

Akimoto noted that the Guam Regional is at full capacity and its ER has 10 patients waiting for beds.

The Guam Memorial Hospital does not have enough nurses to open additional beds, while the Navy Hospital will be on a lockdown against civilians in the event of a pandemic, Akimoto said.

“Guam Public Health doesn’t have enough nurses or doctors to keep their outpatient patient clinics operational as we speak,” Akimoto said. “Homeland Security is holding an Emergency briefing at noon today to discuss the WHO global pandemic emergency declaration for coronavirus. AMC and other private clinics that represent more than 80 percent of Guam’s medical worker force have conspicuously not been involved in any forward planning.”

Terlaje acknowledged the local doctors’ concerns. “They should be involved in the planning given our already strained clinics and hospitals,” she said.

While there are no cases of coronavirus reported on Guam or the CNMI, the DPHSS said it has teamed up with emergency management stakeholders to prepare for the its potential arrival.

“DPHSS continues to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as it prepares its response, updating any plans or procedures as CDC guidelines change,” the department said.

DPHSS said health officials met with key external stakeholders to establish consensus on best practices to keep 2019-nCoV off Guam and to discuss the emergency protocols in the event that a patient tests positive on island.

Attendance at the meeting included Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services, Guam Fire Department, Customs and Quarantine Agency, Guam International Airport Authority, Guam Memorial Hospital Authority, Guam Visitors Bureau, Guam Regional Medical City, Transportation Security Administration, Guam Homeland Security/Office of Civil Defense (GHS/OCD), Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association, and airline representatives. Efforts are also being communicated with the Guam Department of Education.

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