AG Camacho says probe indicates massive breach of protocols
Some service members infected with Covid-19 were found to have frequented more than 20 stores and restaurants on Guam, and may have potentially exposed the staff and other patrons to the coronavirus, according to the Department of Public Health and Social Services.
"As more establishments open up, with more people patronizing businesses and restaurants, it will be more likely that possible exposures can occur. All people in our community need to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing," the department said.
DPHSS and the Department of Defense are currently investigating the recent coronavirus outbreak involving a cluster from a unit deployed to Andersen Air Force Base.
DPHSS said the vast majority of establishments visited by service members are restaurants with take-out and dine-in options.
"The DPHSS is asking people who frequented the following establishments from June 4 through June 13 to monitor their health. DPHSS will announce a testing site and date for next week. Individuals may also be tested at their doctor’s office," the department said.
Attorney General Leevon Camacho said his office's own investigation determined that "the breakdown in protocol may go beyond a few servicemembers eating at restaurants while they were supposed to be quarantined."
"We believe that the military is refusing to provide necessary information to DPHSS to determine whether or not protocol was followed," Camacho stated in a letter to Speaker Tina Muna Barnes. "This is unacceptable. No one is above the law, not even the military. Our office will continue to fully investigate these allegations and work to hold the right people accountable."
Instead of sharing concrete information with the local government, Camacho alleged that the military was sharing "general information," such as "statements of when and where the service members stayed and visited."
"We would hope that the military would be forthcoming with information that would confirm this was not a systematic failure to follow our local rules," Camacho said. "What we are left with instead are actions that resulted in the spread of Covid-19 and endangered members of our community."
In a letter to Rear Adm. John Menoni, commander of the Joint Region Marianas, Muna Barnes she was "appalled that the Air Force has refused to cooperate with the government of Guam to hold these violators accountable.
"Not only have the livelihoods of our residents been jeopardized, and even possibly the reopening date of our economy – but scarce government resources are now being expended to clean up the mess that has been created," Muna Barnes said. "Our people of Guam have expressed inafa’maolek to the Department of Defense; we expect the same in return, and I am confident that you will be more forthcoming with our local officials."
The resurgence of coronavirus contagion came amid the scheduled reopening of Guam tourism.
To date, there have been a total of 226 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with five deaths, 174 released from isolation, and 47 active cases.
Of those cases, 184 are classified as civilians, and 42 are military service members—35 of which have been recently identified among a unit deployed to AAFB.
Brig. Gen. Getry Boswell, commander of the 36th Wing, earlier said members of the military who are found to have violated safety protocols under public health emergency directives "will be held accountable for their actions."
The Joint Region Marianas has extended its public health order until 8 a.m. July 1, 2020, unless rescinded sooner.
Under the JRM directive, Navy, Marine Corps, and U.S. Coast Guard active duty service members stationed onboard Guam remain prohibited from dining in at restaurants and visiting bars.
As of June 18, service members stationed at AAFB ad their dependents are mandated to limit travel to essential trips, such as grocery shopping, gas station, post office, pharmacy visits, transit to and from work and individual outdoor exercise
The health department reminded the community that Covid-19 can spread from person to person. "It is primarily spread by direct contact with respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks," the department said.
Anyone may also be exposed to the coronavirus by touching a contaminated surface or object, and then touching their face. "Symptoms can range from mild (or no symptoms) to severe illness," the department said.
"Since establishments have been practicing guidelines for social distancing with ordering and seating arrangements, the DPHSS has assessed that some of these locations may have low risk of close contact or prolonged exposure to these Covid-19 cases. Out of an abundance of caution, DPHSS is notifying the public of all locations involved in the AAFB cluster, including those that may be low risk," the department said.