By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Supreme Court asked to limit judicial intervention in Guam quarantine policy
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero is petitioning the Supreme Court of Guam to put the brakes on judicial intervention in coronavirus-linked health policies, invoking her executive mandate to implement quarantine and isolation protocols during a public health crisis. In a petition for declaratory judgment filed Jan. 20, the governor’s office noted that the emergence of highly infectious strains of Covid-19 in other jurisdictions underscored “the primacy of a rigorous quarantine policy” and the public health officials’ immediate response to the virus threat. “Understandably, there seems to be a public perception of impatience with the pace at which the pandemic is developing and resolving,” states the petition filed by the governor’s attorneys, Sophia Santos Diaz and Leslie A. Travis. “This impatience seems to be reflected in the quarantine court's decisions. However, general frustration should not control the island's response to the pandemic.” Last year, the government of Guam faced numerous lawsuits over its quarantine policy. The Superior Court of Guam ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, who asked to be either transferred to home quarantine or released from quarantine altogether, often short of the 14-day incubation period for Covid-19.
“While individual rights are critical in our democracy, they are not absolute in the best of times; the unrestrained exercise of such rights must, at times, yield to the public good. The Constitution is not ‘a suicide pact,’" the governor’s office said.
In a statement, Communications Director Krystal Paco-San Agustin said the Department of Public Health and Social Services needs all the tools at its disposal to effectively protect Guam and its healthcare system. “Throughout the world, in places like California and the Philippines, common points of origin for incoming travelers to Guam, new variants of the Covid-19 virus have shown to be up to 70 percent more contagious,” San Agustin said. “While we have been fortunate to not have evidence that this new strain has reached our shores, this highlights the need to keep our quarantine protocols in place. This year alone, 28 percent of new cases were travel-related.” The petition filed with the Supreme Court invoked the Islan Guahan Emergency Health Powers Act, which authorizes the governor to use her emergency power to address any public health crisis “The primary sponsor of the Emergency Health Powers Act noted that because the government is responsible for safeguarding the health, security, and wellbeing of the People, GovGuam must be able to respond rapidly and effectively to public health emergencies,” San Agustin said. “This includes the ability to quarantine to prevent or limit the transmission of disease.” She noted that during the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak on Guam, the island’s health care system relied on visiting healthcare professionals to assist with the patient surge. “Given the demand for such labor across all the other U.S. jurisdictions, it is not likely we will be able to rely on that same level of help. We will be on our own, relying on a local workforce that has labored tirelessly since March,” San Agustin said. “Quarantine and isolation, along with all our other mitigation measures, are necessary to help our healthcare workers in their efforts to care for us.” The governor's legal team argued that Guam faces "unique circumstances that justify its nuanced approach to quarantine." These include enhanced comorbidity factors, a higher percentage of hospitalizations, limited monitoring capability, limited medical resources that are strained even in non-emergency ircumstances, and geographic isolation, which renders it difficult to supplement medical resources with support from other jurisdictions.