• By Johanna Salinas

Rapid engagement team formed to fight Covid-19; Gil Baza, Zero Down subdivisions identified as hotsp


Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has formed a Rapid Engagement Team to addressed the unabated number of Covid-19 cases on Guam.

“The second surge is much more difficult because it’s community spread,” she said at Thursday’s press conference.

“In the beginning it was more clusters so we could better identify them. now we’ve gotten into community spread, then it’s a much more difficult and challenging to contain.”

The governor expressed confidence that the rapid engagement team, which will focus on the hotspots, will help in decreasing the Covid-19 spread on Guam.

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Chima D. Mbakwem, disease control supervisor at the Department of Public Health and Social Services, said the department is on track with contact tracing and stopping transmission.

“Contact tracing isn’t what we’re focused on. What we’re focused on cutting off transmission by improving early case detection and early isolation,” he said.

Mbakwem said early case detection and early isolation make it easier to engage in contact tracing a day or two. The system requires the isolation of a high-risk individual and to ensure that his close contacts are tracked.

“We actually moved forward to create a port within the isolation and containment unit. What we’re doing now is having ports in the containment unit where if an individual becomes positive and is informed by the medical provider the isolation team makes contact with that individual,” Mbakwen said. “At the same time, at that same port, they have the case investigator and a contact tracer that will act right away.”

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DPHSS Director Art San Agustin said tests were being done at Zero Down and Gill Baza in Yigo on Thursday.

“We have a pre-advanced team. It was the meet and greet concept of coming out into the community letting them know what’s happening today and tomorrow,” he said.

The team includes nurses, social workers, translators and isolation team.

As early afternoon, 29 positive cases were detected out of 78 tests.

“The team is looking at our hotspots. We have cases throughout the island. Its looking at where we see increase numbers and reaching out to those communities and looking to interrupt those transmissions,” San Agustin said.

There was a question as to why Zero Down and Gill Baza were identified as hotspots, but GovGuam didn’t publicly name businesses that had clusters.

“We’ve been discussing this with legal (team). Advice to me and DPHSS is that this is a public health issue,” said Leon Guerrero.

“It’s OK to name places and name location if it has a function and purpose. For example, earlier we identified Iglesia Ni Cristo as one of the churches where people were found to be positive. The reason we mentioned their name because it was difficult to happen, because people weren’t signing in the church or functions they had. Advice to me is if there’s a purpose or function to name them, that we should name them. We named Gill Baza and Zero Down because there’s a big cluster, big hotspot there.”

San Agustin encourages local businesses to assist DPHSS in contact tracing. “We have two online courses. One is with John Hopkins and the one is with ASTHO. We also have a partnership with UOG and UCSF. We have a training opportunity which prior press conference the governor discussed. We have a team that’s going to be assembling. Launch day is Oct. 19.”

Agustin mentioned how the Port Authority was helpful during contact tracing efforts which made the investigation a lot easier. “Cooperativeness of an establishment is really a key factor for us to doing case investigation and contact tracing,” said the director. “We’ve collaborated with businesses and entities and have offered testing to their employees who’ve become close contact. It’s been extended to their family members.”

The director acknowledged how social media has helped in warning people about possible infections.

Agustin said, “Our small community, sometimes highly uses social media information is out there before DPHSS puts out any word or does any confirmation of any activity going on there.”

Agustin also discussed what DPHSS is doing, through the Division of Environmental Health, to ensure compliance with the governor's executive order and DPHSS guidelines and address violations.

“We also partner with GPD. We respond to concerns of complaints provided to us if not observed by other Environmental Health staff when they do their regular site assessments," San Agustin said. "In terms of assessment, I know we as a department are looking further into that in terms of what other types or degrees of enforcement we consider to put forth.”

Agustin also addressed the Guam Visitors Bureau's plan to use $5 AVID Binax test kit. “With that now, it’s at the control of DPHSS and government and it’s designed for first responders, senior citizens, high risk groups. It’s also a limited capacity. It’s not something that could be purchased over the counter,” he said. “One of the concerns we all have is it’s sustainability. If we have more than 50,000 visitors or if we wanted to do mass screening for those who are infectious. Those 50,000 could be easily depleted. It’s something we have to further assess on is sustainability.

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