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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan and Alex Rhowuniong

Covid outbreak in Chuukese community traced to funeral service

A growing number of Chuukese on Guam have tested positive for Covid-19, which is suspected to have been transmitted during a funeral service and is believed to have originated from travelers who came from Hawaii carrying the remains of a deceased relative.

According to the Guam Department of Public Health of Social Services’ statistics, 26 Chuukese have tested positive for Covid-19 as of Aug. 10. The number includes a male Chuukese patient, who is currently in the intensive care unit of the Guam Memorial Hospital.

Press Secretary Krystal Paco San Agustin said the 30-year-old patient, who has been in ICU for two weeks, remains on a ventilator. "His condition hasn't improved and has ties to the funeral," she said.

However, limited information about this cluster is publicly available. The Pacific Island Times’ calls to the Federated States of Micronesia Embassy on Guam were not returned as of this writing. DPHSS declined to provide additional information

“I helped with some outreach a couple of weeks ago to help disseminate information to the FSM community,” Sen. Clynt Ridgell said.

A text message written in Chuukese, which is circulating in the Chuuk community, stated, “There is an announcement from Honorable Sen. Clynt Ridgell, that there are Chuukese in the Intensive Care Unit at GMH who are suspected of having Covid-19 related symptoms.

"Based on this announcement from our senator, these suspected cases are found in visiting Chuukese from Hawaii that came to Guam with remains of their deceased. It is also pointing to our San Agustine Funeral Home Services.”

San Agustine Funeral Home declined to comment.

The text message advises members of the Chuuk community, who might have been at the funeral service, to get tested or seek medical attention if they are experiencing coronavirus-like symptoms.

Paco-San Agustin said contact-tracing has been done among this group.

Guam's Covid-19 tally is now 434. The resurgence of coronavirus spread on Guam has prompted Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero to impose new directives. These include the revived restrictions on funeral services, which are now limited to 10 people, specifically immediate family members.

Last week, the government confirmed the death of a 40-year-old Chuukese man, who was found unresponsive in the quarantine facility at Oceanview Hotel. The death, however, was declared non-related to Covid 19.

“The last update I received was that Dr. (Philip Dauterman) determined there was no need for an autopsy,” San Agustin said.

An undetermined number of FSM citizens who traveled abroad have been stranded in Hawaii and Guam since the FSM national and state governments shut their borders following the public heath emergency declaration in February.

Richard Clark, public information officer for the Office of the FSM President, said the FSM Consulate Office in Harmon has maintained operations throughout the pandemic to assist Micronesians on Guam.

“It provides consular and informational services to FSM citizens who call Guam home. The types of services the consulate has provided range from the delivery of food supplies to the translation of materials on Covid-19 in local vernacular,” Clark said.

He said many of the consulate's outreach programs are provided in partnership with the FSM Association of Guam.

Clark said this organization seeks “to harmonize the public, private, and civil sectors approach toward community development and engagement.”

Outreach programs include delivering food to the homeless shelter and to students at Pacific Islands University and the University of Guam, Clark said.

FSM is one of the few countries that remain coronavirus-free.

“To the knowledge of the FSM National Government, although Guam Public Health may categorize by ethnicity for statistical purposes it does not do so on citizenship status,” Clark said.

“That said, it is also to the knowledge of the FSM national government that the Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted traditionally, politically and economically disenfranchised communities of which FSM citizens may be a part of.”

FSM citizens who are stranded in Guam are entitled to $1,000 per individual or $1,500 per family application.

The funds are available “until such time that the nation is able to repatriate its citizens,” Clark said. “FSM citizens who permanently reside in Guam are able to seek consular and informational services if desired.”

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