Pandemic underscores the value of technology
The public health emergency declaration in response to the Covid-19 pandemic mandates social distancing that has forced the government of Guam and most businesses to require employees to work at home.
“The lessons we’ve learned and seen is that people can do telework and people can use internet and technology to do some of their obligations and their duties and responsibilities,” Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said at Friday's press conference. “It’s been very much demonstrated we need to use our technology and improve our infrastructure so we can provide services online, as it’s most important in this pandemic we minimize our social contact, we minimize face to face. On top of that, it’d provide better efficiency and effectiveness of our public service.”
Leon Guerrero said government employees have adjusted well to working at home. “Those employees were asked to stay home but were to be ready in a two-hour’s notice to return to work,"she said.
"A lot of them were doing telework, doing work through telephone. People need answers to questions, needed clarifications. Although they’re not in physically in the facility they normally at while they’re working, they’re at home, for the most part they’re teleworking and helping support the public service,” the governor added.
The government of Guam resumes operations on June 1.
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero
During the conference, the issue of deferential pay was also discussed. “Category 3 employees are administrative employees. They are more the backroom support employees,” Leon Guerrero said. “These are more employees aren’t in direct contact with people with most of their job duties. These are employees that support the facing serves.”
The governor further explained how deferential pay is based on risk. “These are employees that have minimal risk to exposure to Covid virus,” said Leon Guerrero. “The employees, essential frontliners we’ve identified, are firemen, policemen, healthcare workers, people working the quarantine, those people who have a high frequency, high exposure to the risk of coronavirus infection, will still be paid deferential pay.”
Also discussed was whether or not double pay would be a feasible option. “We’re still in discussions with U.S. Treasury about whether the CARES Act will be allowed to be used for double pay,” said the governor. “I was just talking to former Congresswoman Madeline Bordallo who attended the NGA’s executive director conference that there is going to be more guidelines coming out. I’ve also spoken to Ed Burns who also attended an NGA group meeting.”
Leon Guerrero also noted the difficulties being faced by the local government with regard to double pay. “As far as it being allowed for double pay, there are some guidelines right now that say you can’t use it for workforce bonuses, you only use it for hazardous pay. We need to clarify the definition of double pay—is that hazardous pay or a bonus pay,” she said.
“Those are things that need to be decided upon and be clarified. I do know this for a fact, if we cannot use CARES Act and we have to use the general fund depending upon which bill, there are four bills in the legislature, I’ve always stated being fiscally responsible, I cannot afford the double pay. If I’m mandated to pay for the double pay, that means I’ll have to look into furloughing people. When we talk about fairness and equity and so forth, the discussion and consideration there is do we pay double pay for some people and as a result we have to furlough other people which then means they don’t have any pay.”
With people returning to work, the governor is also aware that many may have difficulty finding care for their children. “As we move from PCOR 1 to PCOR 2 and to PCOR 3 and to ultimately PCOR 4, what we’re saying is our risk of exposure and increased community spread is decreasing as we move from one phase to the other. One of the reasons we didn’t want to open daycare centers right away, we wanted to make sure we’re in an environment or period we have less risk,” Leon Guerrero said at her press conference on Friday.
“This is a way to protect the children of these daycare centers. Children aren’t adherent to social distancing, they probably won’t use their masks. It’s hard to put those prevention measures in those centers. The time to open them up is the time when we have less coronavirus in our community and less risk to feel and comfortable that our children will be safe in those daycare centers.”
Public Health Director Linda Unpingco-DeNorcey said children are as susceptible to the coronavirus as the elderly.
“Also children are super spreaders of infection; they can spread it from one area to another very rapidly. Right now, the way things stand is that daycare centers are closed,” she said. “They can have staff come in to do administration work.”
The director said child care facilities received $369,847 in pubic heath funds in May. The amount was based on enrollment and not attendance, she said.
Also issued to these areas $452,006.50 for March. In the final stage the department will issue $6.4 million from the CARES Act, which will cover all 47 licensed childcare facilities.
“Daycare centers aren’t allowed to bring child to work or operate with any children in the facility. That’s in place right now,” DeNorcey said.
There are 47 licensed childcare facilities on Guam, and 44 are covered and provided assistance through Guam DPHSS' Childcare Development Funds, she said.
DeNorcey aso talked about allowing returning residents, essential medical workers and persons travelled to Guam for emergency quarantine at their residence or hotel rental. To do so, one must present either a valid Guam IDs, a mayor’s verifications or signing a declaration of residency upon arrival. She said, “There are residence that are (at the hotels now). By Monday, we had a meeting with all the agencies that are working with the quarantine area, yes there’s a plan release them to continue their 14 day quarantine at home.”
Another major topic discussed at the press conference was the community testing. On May 29, the main testing center at Dededo Post Office was geared to the homeless, but it was also actually open to all. “Expanded testing means we’re going out into the community and we’re now looking at the second, third, and forth priority people that we’ll be testing. It means now we have supplies to test those who need to be tested,” said Leon Guerrero. “It means going out into the community trying to have a better understanding of what community spread is. When Linda gave the schedule for this next three weeks of testing, anybody can come to those areas to be tested.”
DeNorcey further explained the significance of expanded testing. “The department is still doing what is called an expansion of our testing capability and as the governor alluded, we have additional supplies from the CDC,” said the director. “Having had those supplies we’re able to now branch out to these respective areas so that we can also identify more cases are may be out there. We’re doing what is called ‘case findings.’ We’re going to these high-risk areas. These are areas where they are most vulnerable; they are limited in terms of their ability to find or seek healthcare services.”
Some may question the validity of the tests after some negative tests have come back positive within 24 hours. “Even though we had several cases that they seemed to be symptomatic, and then later on they were without symptoms. We wanted to make certain they don’t come back again,” said DeNorcey. “The only way to do that was of course through laboratory testing. We were also examining possibility that the test that may come about were still positive. A couple of tests were still positive. And then we had the inclination that there could be either two things. Either the viral load was still there within the test or the other possibility is that they may be re-infected.”