The Office of the Governor may have been spewing out updates on the status of Covid-19 infections on Guam on a daily basis since the first three cases were detected on Sunday, but limited information has been causing distress among island residents, who sometimes resort to relying on rumors and speculations on social media.
"The island is in a state of panic, and a lot of this has to do with the lack of information being circulated by the government," Sen. James Moylan said in a letter to Gov. Lourdes Leon Guerrero.
The coronavirus updates on Guam, provided by the Joint Information Center on a daily basis, typically include only the number of confirmed cases, the number of people tested as well as the usual hygiene and social isolation reminders. While the latest government update released Friday included information of the ages of the Covid-919 patients and identified those with travel history, the information does not include the areas where they came from, when they arrived and which flights they were on.
"Being in the healthcare industry prior to my role as a senator, I recognize privacy laws," Moylan said. "While we don’t expect our government to release any names or pertinent information of the patients, we expect to at least provide information such as the possible whereabouts of these individuals so that island residents can take additional precautionary measures with their families. That is not asking for too much."
The number of confirmed cases on Guam has risen to 14. On Friday, the Guam Memorial Hospital disclosed that a patient who was initially admitted for an illness not related to Covid-19 was later diagnosed with the dreaded virus. The late detection is feared to have exposed GMH employees to Covid-19.
"Now that this global pandemic has reached our shores, with 14 confirmed cases of Covid-19 as of last night, one thing is certain, the public needs more answers," Moylan said.
"It was unfortunate that through third party information, the community learnt last night that several patients who were diagnosed with the virus were sent home for isolation versus being placed at the designated isolation center at the Skilled Nursing Facility in Barrigada Heights," Moylan said.
Moylan warned that the decision to send the patients home, notwithstanding its medical reason, may have added a greater level of exposure to not only the family members but also those whom they may be in contact with.
Moylan reminded the governor of elected officials' responsibility to their constituency.
"But of course, with transparency and additional information, we would have a better understanding and details of this policy, hence provide island residents an assurance that safety is paramount," Moylan said.
"If we are able to provide the potential whereabouts of patients, even if it is vague, I can assure you that the number of home, self-quarantined cases will drastically increase, hence it would help reduce the risk of exposure."
Moylan said providing more details to the community without compromising privacy laws would help reduce the chaos in the community.
"Whether it is about advising on when the next kits or additional ventilators will arrive on island or a health status update of the medical staff at the Guam Memorial Hospital exposed to the fiasco this past week, our people need answers," Moylan said.
"We are facing tumultuous times, and I am optimistic in the resiliency of our community, and that we will certainly rebound from this crisis. But in the meantime, we must weather this storm together, and in order to reduce our community’s fears, concerns, and paranoia, our government must be more transparent, which means providing our residents as much information as possible on what is going on and what progress has been made. Once again, that is not asking for too much."
Meanwhile, Sen. Wil Castro urged the governor and Attorney General Leevin Camacho to enable “virtual check-ins” for local health providers and patients.
“It is imperative that we allow medical professionals to communicate with patients using technology so our people get the care they need while preventing further spread of the coronavirus,’ Castro said.
In line with the Trump Administration’s move to expand access to telehealth services as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Castro urged the governor and the attorney general Leevin Camacho to promulgate the policies and procedures necessary to permit the use of technology for health care providers to communicate with patients.
“Given the safeguards implemented by the federal and local governments, it is imperative that we provide an avenue for health care providers to administer necessary services to our people confined to their homes,” Castro said. “This will help reduce the risk of exposure by so many in our community — including those most susceptible — by remaining in their homes for the same consultative services.”