• By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Avoid travel to Pacific islands, CDC advises travelers


Most Pacific island countries and territories may be the envy of the world for being coronavirus-free, but as far as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is concerned, these sun-and-sand destinations are not safe for travelers.

The CDC has designated a level 3 warning for all islands in the region, advising travelers to avoid nonessential travel to these locations — most of which have not reported any Covid-19 positive case.

Using the same travel advisory template for all jurisdictions, CDC warns travelers that medical resources are limited in these areas.

Guam, Northern Marianas and American Samoa are all labeled “high-risk” destinations.

While questioning CDC's criteria for risk assessments and blanket advisory, Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero gave its director a crash course in civics.

“At the very least, the CDC should understand that Guam is American soil and that approximately 4 million U.S. citizens live in Guam and its sister territories,” Leon Guerrero said in a letter to CDC Director Robert R. Redfield.

In its original travel advisory published Aug. 7, CDC advised sick U.S. nationals to “check with the Office of Foreign Affairs or Ministry of Health of Guam or the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Country Information page for details about entry requirements and restrictions for arriving travelers, such as mandatory testing or quarantine.”

While this portion has since been deleted, the edited travel advisory is still hyperlinked to the “Getting Health Care Abroad” page.

“Though others can be forgiven for not understanding the complex history of the United States and its unincorporated territories, the CDC should know that we do not have a foreign ministry of health or a foreign designee at the U.S. State Department,” Leon Guerrero said. “Guam's sons and daughters carry this nation's flag into battle and too often lay under that flag in eternal rest-that sacrifice will not be ignored.”

CDC advises older adults, people of any age with certain underlying medical conditions, and others at increased risk for severe illness to consider postponing all travel, including essential travel.”

“Local policies at your destination may require you to be tested for Covid-19 before you are allowed to enter the country. If you test positive on arrival, you may be required to isolate for a period of time. You may even be prevented from returning to the United States, as scheduled. You might consider getting tested before your trip,” the CDC advisory reads.

Of 21 states and territories in the Pacific islands region, five are experiencing Covid-19 outbreaks: Guam, CNMI, Fiji, French Polynesia and New Caledonia.

According to the World Health Organization's Covid-19 update as of Aug. 8, the region has a total of 577 Covid-19 cases with eight deaths. The bulk of this number is from Guam with 412 cases; followed by French Polynesia, 69; CNMI, 47; Fiji, 27; and New Caledonia, 23.

Ten countries in the Pacific islands region are among the 12 locations in the world listed as Covid-19 free throughout the pandemic period: Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Samoa, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Tonga, Marshall Islands, Palau, Tuvalu and Nauru. Also on the list are North Korea and Turkmenistan.

While labeling the risk level in these islands as “unknown,” CDC has issued “avoid nonessential travel” advisories for these destinations just the same.

Most economies in the region are fueled by tourism.

“While I respect the CDC's fundamental role in protecting the nation and its people throughout this pandemic, every U.S. territory is included in the high-level risk list despite the fact that most U.S. territories have done a better job of containing Covid-19 than many states,” Leon Guerrero stated in her letter to Redfield.

“What fact based metric places every U.S. territory on the same ‘high-level risk’ even when some of those territories have zero new cases?” the governor asked.

She noted that Guam's test positivity rate is well below 2 percent — better than South Dakota, Indiana, Tennessee and Nebraska, which are closer to the national average of 8 percent

Guam's Covid-19 hospitalization rate remains stable with an average of two to three per day, Leon Guerrero added.

"We are also prepared for any surge in hospitalization with 83 Covid-designated hospital beds (with a capacity to increase beds 200 or more) and 75 ventilators," the governor said. "Despite the success of the U.S. territories in our response to Covid-19, we have been included in a high-level risk list rather than used as examples for states to follow."

She recommended that CDC provide separate risk assessments for the territories to provide a better understanding for the Covid-19 risk of each jurisdiction.

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