As Covid-19 cases go up, Guam tourism remains in limbo
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero weighs her next move — whether to keep the island at its current readiness status or lift more restrictions— while assessing the Covid-19 situation on Guam
“We’re looking for the next week, week and a half, two weeks to see how things are going to be going. Certainly, we are considering going into the next phase of our (Pandemic Condition of Readiness.) That probably won’t be until we see more data,” the governor said.
Guam tourism was originally set to reopen on July 1, but a sudden spike in infections has prompted the governor to postpone the reopening indefinitely.
As of July 9, Guam has 307 Covid-19 positive cases. The uncertain public health situation brings tourism in limbo.
“I don’t really have a target date yet. We’re still discussing this with our business community and also the physician advisory group,” she said. “When we look at the opening, we also have to look at how we treat inbound passengers and inbound travelers. How does that relate to what kinds of protocols and what kinds of procedures that we would be doing in order to still protect our community and also to be able to balance out the ability of our economy to move forward and be again robust like it was before? That is a balancing situation I need to look at.”
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero
Leon Guerrero said industry stakeholders are doing market survey. “We’re in constant communication and discussions about it. I want to make sure when the decision is made, we balance the protection of the community and the ability for our economy to move on,” she said.
Hawaii’s tourism is scheduled to reopen next month and local stakeholders will observe to determine what Guam can learn from the Aloha state.
“I don’t know what the protocols are going to be when Hawaii reopens on Aug. 1. I don’t know if they’re still going to require testing before travelers get into their community,” Leon Guerrero said. “I hear they may still continue that. That’s one of the discussions we’re having with our (Guam Visitors Bureau). What are the requirements we’re going to put on travelers coming in to assure that our community is safe? One of the biggest things we look at too is where are these people coming from. If they’re coming from a low risk area, then the requirements may not be as stringent as those travelers coming in from a higher risk.”
The governor noted that when she started lifting restrictions, the community was confident that the virus had been contained.
“Our confidence was based on the positivity test and our confidence was based on our ability to test more and our confidence was based on our to do effective contact tracing and of course on our hospital healthcare delivery system capacity,” said the governor.
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When Guam moved to PCOR 2 and testing expanded, the governor said she was aware that Guam would see more positive cases. “But what we’re seeing is what we really want it to be—increased mobility and contained coronavirus. That just says to our community that despite the fact that people are going out and doing more activities, we’re still able to maintain a below 3 percent positivity rate. What that tells me is that we’re abiding very well to the preventive measures that we’re out there adamantly advocating for.”
The governor is pleased to see residents following health guidelines. “I've gone out and seen even people just walking on the streets wearing masks and that’s good,” Leon Guerrero said. “That is what we want people to do to get back to some kind of normalcy in our lives. Additionally, I see adherence to social distancing. As we continue to be compliant in these measures, you’ll see we will be able to contain the virus.”
The governor expressed hope that Guam returns to normal soon.
“We've been seeing increased mobility. As we start opening more events and activities, like the church, you know where people go,” she said. “Supermarkets, grocery stores, Home Depot— although those were already open even during the pandemic crisis. We're always seeing more dine-in restaurants. That's what we want to see. We want people to start doing this so we can have an idea of how well we’ve contained it. Our increase in testing has been surmountable, I think."
Approximately 16,000 have been tested on Guam. Leon Guerrero said contact tracing has shown that most of the cases are not through major outbreaks.
“Most of the cases we’re seeing in positives is through household contacts. That's good, that means that it’s within clusters,” said the governor. “Although we’re concerned there is community spread, it is very encouraging when we do our contact tracing that a lot of these are through household contact which means we can contain better, address better and isolate better. All the things we’re doing right now, I think we’re doing it on the right track."
Dr. Felix Cabrera, the governor's medical advisor, discussed testing travelers on day seven or day 10 of their quarantine.
“It’s run by Public Health by the default. It’s based on the availability,” he said. “The priority goes to those who can shorten the government quarantine stay. We’re open to arrangements with of the private labs or another means, we’ll be open to that. Those will be covered by pocket and likely not necessarily covered by insurance. If they’re a member of a DOD and DOD wants to run the test, we’re open to that as well.”
During his PowerPoint presentation, Cabrera discussed new quarantine requirements for travelers from high-risk states and countries. “Yes, we’re seeing a higher increase in terms of the age group that are younger that are being positive,” he said. “I think that’s to be expected. They're the ones most likely to be mobile, they’re the ones most likely to take risks.”
Cabrera believes that Guam’s rate is quite stable. “It's been 88 days since we’ve had the last known Covid-19 related death,” he said. “That's a very important point to make. Despite seeing fluctuations in our case numbers, Guam as a whole is doing a great job at protecting the vulnerable. That's really key and that’s something we should all be proud of.”
While the number of cases go up, Cabrera said “you don’t see a high number of elders infected and turning up positive and ending up in the hospital.”
Early detection of infections among the younger ones insures that the more vulnerable are protected, Cabrera said. “That's where the contact tracing really plays a crucial role. Public Health’s team has been doing an amazing job. They're not perfect and they may not call you when you want to be called exactly and return your calls when you want. They're prioritizing the areas and the persons who need to be prioritized and that’s what's keeping Guam safe.”
Another issue of concern was the 35 airmen who had tested positive for Covid-19, and visited several establishments on Guam. “I know that most of those businesses, I’m not sure of all them, but they are in the process of having their employees tested. They have no positives in those contact tracings,” said Leon Guerrero. “The head of the contact tracing the positives we do have are not at all connected or related to the 35 airmen. I don’t know if they’re all released. I’m sure that’ some of them have flown off to other places. I know that our contact tracing does not connect our positives to those airmen.”
Cabrera discussed the challenge of contact-tracing for the 35 infected airmen. “[DPHSS] were primarily looking at primary contacts and secondary contacts. We can’t necessarily comment on tertiary contacts, three-degree separation,” said the doctor. “There’s no way knowing the effect those happening at all. The same time we were seeing the positive cases in the airmen were 13 days after the June 8 change in quarantine policies. It became more strict on some hotspot areas but less restrictive persons coming from mainland U.S.”