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CNMI's Covid surge prompts 2-week government and school shutdown

Rep. Tina Sablan says public health officials, AG oppose governor's shutdown order

Gov. Ralph Torres

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Due to the raging surge of coronavirus infections, CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres has ordered a two-week government shutdown effective Monday, and imposed new restrictions including a midnight curfew and limits on social gatherings.

According to an announcement from the governor's office, essential services including law enforcement, public safety and public health will continue to fully operate.

Rizalina Liwag, acting commissioner of education, said the Public School System will shift to remote learning beginning Monday until Dec. 23.

"This decision has been carefully assessed by the PSS leadership and school administration," Liwag said.

All non-essential government employees are ordered to work from home. “To ensure the continuity of public services, all department and activity heads have been advised to facilitate teleworking and timekeeping within their offices, divisions, and agencies during this government stay-at-home order,” states a press release from the CNMI government.

The CNMI reported two coronavirus-related deaths as Covid-19 infections continue to spread, with a total of 507 new positive cases recorded in the past seven days. The CNMI has logged in a total of five deaths since the outbreak began last year.

The CNMI had managed to contain the coronavirus transmissions for several months until a cluster emerged in October.

Currently, there are 1,104 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the CNMI with more to be announced soon, according to a press release from the CNMI government. “It is vitally important that our people continue to remain vigilant and take personal responsibility to protect ourselves, our families, our friends, our man’amko, and our loved ones with preexisting illnesses,” Torres said. “We must continue to encourage the unvaccinated to get vaccinated. Our focus is now on protecting against mass hospitalization by decreasing the risk of community transmission through these guidelines,” the governor added. Rep. Tina Sablan, however, said Esther Muna, CEO of the Commonwealth Health Center Corp. did not sign off on the governor’s directive. “Public health officials disagreed with the order, based on science and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control,” Sablan, a gubernatorial candidate, wrote on her Facebook page. “The attorney general disagreed with the order. The AG did not sign off on the shutdown. "

Sablan said the Federal Emergency Management Agency will not reimburse the CNMI for the cost of the shutdown.

“The CNMI's Covid-19 level is still green. Schools, bars, restaurants, and gyms are still open. Flights are still arriving. The travel bubble is still open. Tomorrow, the legislature will still be open,” Sablan said. While the number of Covid-19 cases may be going up, Sablan said “the spread is happening in the home, and in gatherings of families. Homes, obviously, are still open.” According to a press release from the governor’s office, the CNMI “will shiftits focus toward protection against increased hospitalization that would overwhelm CHCC and private clinics and to ultimately safeguard vulnerable residents with preexisting conditions and health ailments.”


The governor's new mandates include the following:

Essential employees who are responding to an emergency or coming from work are exempted from the curfew, which runs from midnight to 4 a.m.

Face masks are required in all public indoor spaces. These spaces include but are not limited to: common areas of apartment buildings and offices, gyms, shops, cultural facilities, restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Face masks are not required while seated at a food service establishment or actively eating or drinking. Signage is required to be placed at all entrances indicating that face masks are required inside your facility. All indoor events must limit attendance to 50 percent of allowed occupancy, unless vaccination verification or negative test verification is done by the event organizer or establishment owner, in which case 100 percent occupancy is allowable. A facility’s occupancy is set by the Department of Public Works building code. The requirement for verificationof a Covid-19 vaccination completion is applicable to any guests 12 years and older. A proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours will be the option for the unvaccinated. Additionally, gathering organizers and establishments must have the means to conduct temperature screening of all employees, patrons and guests prior to enteringthe establishment or participating in the event.

Establishments or organizers must document each patron’s and guest's name, phone number,and evidence of verification of completed Covid-19 vaccination or test (which may be documented by recording the date of last vaccination or test) in a log which mustbe accessible to CNMI officials.

Acceptable proof of vaccination includes an original vaccination card, a photocopy or photograph of a vaccination card, or an immunization record or documentation provided by CHCC or a health care provider.

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