By Joyce McClure
First United repatriation flight heading to Yap on Sunday
Twenty-seven residents of Yap who have been stranded since the FSM border closed in late March 2020 will fly home from Guam via United this coming Sunday.
It is the first repatriation flight between Guam and Yap being provided by United, and the largest number of repatriations since Pacific Mission Aviation brought 16 residents from Palau to Yap on Aug. 18. Approximately 60 more residents are waiting to be repatriated.
“This last year and a half has been a bit surreal to me, as I’m sure it has been for many others,” said Pam Ledgesog, director of Yap’s Department of Education, "especially those who have been stranded away from home.”
Currently in quarantine for seven days at the Grand Plaza Hotel, Ledgesog and her fellow passengers, all adults, have been fully vaccinated and will be tested within 72 hours of departure. They will again be quarantined for seven days upon arrival in Yap, and tested on days 2 and 6 before being released.
The Yap State Department of Health Service and the Health Crisis Task Force issued an announcement on Tuesday, Aug. 24 titled “Masking by the Public is Encouraged.”
Living in a Covid-free bubble, masks have not been required on the island and social distancing has been lax. But with people arriving from outside for the first time since the border closing, the notice states, “Everyone is encouraged to buy their own face masks and get into the habit and practice of using them every time you leave your home and go out in public…especially where it is difficult to keep a distance of six feet from other people.”
Ledgesog was stranded after flying to Honolulu for surgery in February 2020 when she tore the meniscus in her knee while attending a meeting in Pohnpei.
By the time she was released from medical care, the pandemic had begun and the FSM border was closed.
“I spent about a year in Honolulu with my daughter and her family waiting for the border to reopen and working remotely. Zoom became one of my best friends and my new norm of coordinating DOE activities and staying in touch with Yap,” she said.
When it was thought that the border might reopen in January 2021, Ledgesog flew to Guam and spent her first quarantine of 14 days at the Dusit Thani hotel.
“Although they definitely followed the rules, all staff were so kind and supportive. I tested negative and was released from quarantine,” she said. “I was then able to get my Covid vaccines in Guam and stayed there three months with my boys, thinking any month I could get back home to Yap.”
When it seemed doubtful that Yap would be opening anytime soon, she flew back to Honolulu, “only to quarantine again, until I retested negative and could safely stay with my daughter who was due to deliver her baby and had not received the vaccine.”
After a couple of months, Ledgesog flew to Kentucky to be with her parents where she again had to quarantine “since they are over 80 and although had received vaccines, I did not want to take a chance that I could carry anything to them.
“I changed time zones so often that I had to keep a log of times so that I could be available for meetings during 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Yap time,” she said.
Returning to Honolulu once again, she learned that repatriation flights might begin soon.
“I had all my travel documents submitted to the state and national task forces as well as the consul general’s office so many times over the year, I am sure they all became weary of my endless email inquiries,” she said. “Yet they were always polite, supportive, and responsive.”
The call finally came through on Aug. 17 for the passengers to report to the FSM consulate for orientation two days later. They then checked into the Grand Plaza Hotel on Aug. 22 to begin pre-quarantine.
“Life in pre-quarantine is very lonely and the Wi-Fi is pretty slow so that has impacted my connectivity for work, although I do view that as a very small price to pay for the chance to return home,” she said.
Commenting on her time away, Ledgesog reflected, “There has been much uncertainty and fear, but it has also provided me many insights. It has reinforced the value of community spirit and the responsibility that each of us has to not only protect ourselves, but to protect others.
“If going through quarantines, getting vaccinated, wearing masks, sanitizing my hands, etc. prevents or limits anyone from becoming sick with Covid-19 or any other severe illness, I would gladly do it all over again.
“One thing I’ve learned from my years in Yap is that communities can only thrive when individuals are willing to make some personal sacrifices. I’m sure I share the beliefs of all the soon-to-be repatriated citizens and residents that going through quarantine is a very small individual sacrifice compared to the safety and well-being of our communities in Yap.”
United has another scheduled flight to Yap in September.