• By Johanna Salinas

Guam's economy closed for 30 more days


While road restrictions have been lifted, nonessential businesses and government functions will remain shut as Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero is extending her public health emergency declaration that mandates social isolation.

“It expires May 5 and we’re going to extend it for 30 more days,” the governor said at Monday’s press conference. “Two major reasons: one, of course, is we want to continue monitoring and be able to have the authority to initiate those measures and continue sustaining those measures for as long as we feel is needed again driven by medical and clinical data. Our federal programs that have been provided through the CARES Act and the other two packages of financial aid will only be affected as long as the public health emergency continues.”

Guam has 144 cases as Monday evening. “While we thankfully only have two patients currently hospitalized for Covid-19, we cannot forget that at the beginning of this month, we had 20 and that was already placing a train on hospitals,” Leon Guerrero said. “Our current measures have prevented the worst-case scenario from coming to fruition. The models were wrong because we have done all we could to make them wrong.

With the number of cases stabilizing, the governor has decided to ease road restrictions. “But we are going to again be monitoring very closely our incidences of Covid cases to again be assured that that decision is adequate and also appropriate for the circumstances we are in today.”

A major issue that was brought up at the press conference was the question as to who qualities for the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation. “People whose hours are reduced are eligible,” said the governor. “They just need to work with their employer, because we are working our internet process. We will have a portal up where the employers will have to register along with a listing of their employees. The listing is to include those who have been unemployed or laid-off as a result of the Covid virus and whose hours are reduced are also eligible.”

“We don’t have unemployment insurance here, so you have to appreciate the fact that we’re creating a new unemployment benefit program. We're working through all of those information,” said Leon Guerrero. “It’s $935 for 13 weeks, and then $345 for the remaining.”

Leon Guerrero mentioned in close communication with key people who would help with the unemployment benefits. “So we can then implement the 39-week program of weekly checks to these individuals,” she said.

The governor discussed writing to President Trump again in order to reach her timeline of giving checks which is third week of May. “If he doesn’t respond to me, I'm going to call him. I'm going to make sure that he listens to what we’re asking him here because we’re in just as much a dire strait in terms of our people struggling to make ends meet here as any other American in the United States,” she said. “Hopefully he would listen and hear us given the fact we’ve extended our help to the military.”

Leon Guerrero voiced her frustration with U.S. Treasury’s delayed approval of Guam’s implementation plan. “We've submitted way before anyone else submitted their implementation plan. It's now been three weeks,” she said. “I'm very upset about it. I'm very angry that our people are suffering as a result of this delay. I'm pushing everything I can to influence those people who make the approvals to approve our implementation plan. Once that implementation plan is approved, we’re sending out the checks right away. We're ready with the checks, we’re ready with the process, we’re ready with the importation. We're just sitting waiting for our implementation plan to be approved and our money to be ready in our account.”

The governor added, “I don’t want people to think I'm holding back the money. I'm not holding back this money. The federal government is allowing me to use it in very earmarked ways. I cannot use it for lost revenue. I cannot use it to make up revenues that we won’t have because of a result of the economy.”

With many locals not receiving a steady paycheck, the fear of eviction is logical. Leon Guerrero’s goal is to make sure more people remain employed and to make sure they receive some income. “As we start lifting restrictions, our businesses will start coming back and these people who are unemployed will probably get their jobs back and as a way to help them of course we have the Pay Protection Paycheck loan that allows business to use their loan to help pay for payroll now, even though the employees aren’t working to hire them back so they continue to be getting income even though businesses isn’t open,” she said.

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“Evictions and moratoriums can only be continued on as long as we have our public health emergency. To be really frank, I don’t think this public health emergency is going to end soon. We will have to continue extending the public health emergencies until we stabilize our economy. Some people even say until we get vaccines and treatment to make sure our people are not re-infected with Covid virus.”

Leon Guerrero also addressed Sen. Regine Biscoe Lee’s letter suggesting that the governor set aside 10 percent of the CARES Act for unemployment. “I did respond to her and informed her that I will be of course providing any kind of help to our individuals who need help, our businesses that need help,” the governor said.

“I just want to make sure that when we do that, we’re not really violating any kind of conditions or requirements as to the use of those federal funds, because if you take a federal fund and use it to pay for another federal fund, one of those funds will be impacted. I want to make sure we don’t do that. I did write her and tell her I'm looking at every possibility, whether locally or federally, that we can use to help our individuals out there with the assistance that they need to try to be as normal in their lives as possible. I thanked her ideas and I said I'd look forward to working with her.”

Leon Guerrero also mentioned that the federal money is to be used for unbudgeted expenses as a result of Covid- 19. “If I could develop programs locally to use these monies as a funding source, of course I would do this. These are monies given by the federal government to help with the territories, not just get back into their economic health but get back into their public health. One of the conditions was it has to be used for prevention measures, medical supplies, PPEs and so forth,” she said.

Also during the conference, the governor announced more pilot testing. “From April 28 to May 1, people with Covid-19 symptoms can be tested. We encourage those with symptoms who live in multigenerational households to stop because they are among the most vulnerable,” she said.

Linda Unpingco-DeNorcey announced the arrival of more test kits. She mentioned that they seek to expand testing capacity by drive thru and walk in testing.

There was, however, a question as to was why only 52 people were tested at the pilot program Saturday at Astumbo. “We went out to over 147 individual homes and assessed all of them and figured we would find a lot of mild symptoms,” DeNorcey said.

“We're surprised to say a lot of them didn’t have mild symptoms. They were fine. No symptoms at all. We branched out further.”

DeNorcey said the people came in on their own will and were not forced to get tested. “We anticipated 100 that we identified that that would be our target. We even had enough nasopharyngeal squab to 50 as an overflow,” DeNorcey said, which meant they had 150 tests. “Sometimes they come in certain days, some days they don’t. The numbers, it varies day to day. This is why we want to extend it.”

DeNorcey also said DPHSS has expanded testing in all clinics public and private. “You can call your healthcare provider and then get tested. You can also, those of you with no healthcare provider or no insurance, you can call any of our Public Health Centers and also our Public Health triage phone hotline,” she said.

DeNorcey said Medicaid/MIP will be covered and that Public Health will cover the uninsured.

Also addressed in the conference was a letter sent out by social workers about lack of PPEs. “In regards to our whole department, everyone is essential. I made that really clear. In the beginning some people had stayed home, others had come to work,” DeNorcey shared. “In regards to PPEs, we do have arrivals of them. They need to go through the process, which is go through the logistics personnel and they will bring in their order and we fill it in and have it sent to them. I believe that everyone in the department is very critical and for that reason, I made it very clear I wanted all the social workers to work.”

DeNorcey also mentioned having help from other agencies to fill in the gap. “DOE social workers came into place. It wasn’t just the social workers. We also had other needs for our other units within the department. We also got help from the AG’s Office,” said the director. She also invited any Public Health employees with any complaints to talk to her.

DeNorcey also discussed Public Health’s efforts to prevent reactivation of Covid-19 in patients who have been cured. “We continue to do our surveillance and contact follow up,” she said. “Later on, as we journey through these pockets of infection, we identify anyone who also has symptoms.”

DeNorcey said if there are asymptomatic symptoms that occur, DPHSS would look into it. “Those types of test aren’t on the top of the priority list, but we still send them to DLS. We will continue to do the contact tracing and follow up,” she stated. “The whole Covid response, it’s not going to end, it’s going to continue. We're going to make it a part of our department.”

As for why some people are immune to the virus and how people get cure, DeNorcey explained. “As far as the antibodies, that’s still in a very primitive phase right now,” she said. “They’re still establishing that. There's nothing definite, because sometimes antibodies can be produced. But then is it really going to be antibodies created of the past. Some people could have that immunity at IgM and IgG. Right now, we’re not certain yet.”

DeNorcey also said Guam won’t be doing any serology testing. “(Serology) is only limited to IgM/IgG and that could be developed from other COVID testing that could’ve been done previously to this COVID 19. There's also MERS and also SARS a part of this coronavirus,” she clarified.

Despite that, DeNorcey is optimistic on the test kits Guam already has. “Today, we got the arrival of 400 gene experts. We’re going to launch our other machine within the department,” she said. “We also have 696 more test Avid that just arrived today. We're sharing some with GMH. Our AVI 7500, we have 317. So all together we have about 1413. We're expecting another shipment from WHO, hopefully this week. We're looking at 6100 altogether.” DeNorcey mentioned that Public Health also launched a purchase order with DLS to do more testing. She said that she also asked Community Health Center will use a grant to get more supplies.

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