Governor says Guam not out of the woods yet, mask mandate stays in place
Updated: Mar 4
Leon Guerrero eases restrictions on indoor crowd
By Aurora Kohn
While gradually lifting some restrictions as Guam entered the second year since the Covid-19's first broke out, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said today the island is not out of the woods yet and residents must keep their masks on,
"We cannot let our guards down. We cannot slip into complacency. We have more work to do, together," the governor said at a press briefing.
The governor's team of health experts expressed cautious optimism as they reported a marked decrease in the number of new cases of Covid 19 infections and hospitalizations at the end of February compared to that of January and early February.
“Our seven-day rolling average of cases is now less than 250 per day by the end of February and that’s really looking good because we were in the 800s back in January and part of early February, ”Dr. Ann Pobutsky, Guam’s territorial epidemiologist reported.
She also said Guam’s positivity rate has decreased from 40 percent in mid-February to around 23 percent and that all age groups are showing a decline. Symptomatic cases were averaging less than 40 percent of cases.
There was also a decline in hospitalizations as well as cases in the ICU. Deaths continued to occur “sporadically” averaging one a day but that has also “abated somewhat."
The governor thanked the people of Guam for their cooperation, which she acknowledged to be a key factor for Guam’s successes in its fight against Covid 19 and its variants.
“We are here today because of our collective commitment to beating not just one, not just two but 4 surges,” Leon Guerrero said.
“This data is encouraging, and it didn’t happen by accident. We are beating this surge because you, the people of Guam, have made it happen. You adjusted your personal behavior, even when it was inconvenient to you, to help protect the most vulnerable people in our community, as you have many times before.”
Due to the downward trend in the incidence of new cases and hospitalizations, the governor announced she will be easing restrictions on social gatherings by increasing the number of attendees from 25 to 100 people for indoor or outdoor gatherings, regardless of vaccination status. The change takes effect on March 4 at 6 pm.
The governor lifted the mandate requiring proof of vaccination prior to entering restaurants, bars, gyms, theaters and similar establishments last week.
Despite the lower numbers, Guam remains in the high-risk category based on the community indicators and metrics under the new framework for monitoring and prevention published by the CDC.
According to Dr. Annette David, senior epidemiologist for the state epidemiological outcome working group, the new guidelines has shifted its focus from “stopping transmission” to “minimizing the impact of severe Covid 19 illness on health and society”.
“We must continue our vaccine outreach and vaccination clinics and booster campaign” said David. “The key really is building up that big wall of protection that vaccinations and boosters can give…. There is no substitute for that wall of protection for our island community.” She said that vaccination is still the “leading public health strategy to prevent severe disease and deaths from Covid 19.”
The governor emphasized that Guam “is not out of the woods yet” and that there is “more work to be done.”
For this reason, she believes that it is necessary to keep other health mandates in place while her government works to reach unvaccinated Guam residents through programs such as Operation Homebound and the campaign to ensure that vulnerable Guam residents and those with comorbidities are vaccinated and boosted.
She advised the Guam community to keep their masks on, wash their hands frequently and watch their distance.
Leon Guerrero said the government will continue its campaign to increase vaccinations and boosters across the different age groups by coordinating with schools and mayor’s offices. It is also working to reach underserved groups, including homeless individuals as part of the government’s efforts to achieve a “wall of protection” for the island. Aside from vaccinations and boosters, Dr.
Leon Guerrero also said the government will continue to get monoclonal antibody treatment as quickly as possible to persons with Covid 19 and its variants. He said the island is doing a lot better than the U.S. mainland relative to the speed that treatment is provided on island. He mentioned that this is possibly one of the reasons why hospitalization numbers have dropped.
The governor also said that the government will continue to test and monitor the testing outcomes and that it coordinates with experts around the world in identifying new variants of Covid 19.
The governor said that she will not lift the public health emergency declaration for Guam for now because this allows Guam to access resources and funds that would otherwise be unavailable. She cited using the Guam National Guard troops to assist Guam’s Covid 19 response as an example.
In addition, Dr. Robert Leon Guerrero, interim chief medical officer, said only the Pfizer vaccine can be given to Guam residents if the emergency declaration is lifted, because the other vaccines only have emergency use authorization. The emergency use authorization also applies to monoclonal antibody treatments and antiviral pills.
Lifting the health emergency would also preclude Guam from using EMT, certified nursing assistants and nursing assistants working under supervision, from filling the gap created by Guam’s nursing shortage, said DPHSS incident commander Fernando Esteves.