Coming home to Guam in the time of Covid-19

August 13, 2020

We flew in from Houston via LAX and Honolulu last Monday, Aug. 3, and were screened at the Guam International Airport. Flying through so many airports in one week, through Narita, San Francisco, Houston IAH, Hobby airports, San Antonio, I did not get screened, or temperature checked even once. After nearly 20 hours of planes and airports, I wanted a wheelchair on landing at SAT. 

 

On Guam, you can't enter a restaurant or a mall without a thermal gun aimed at your head. This is a good thing. If you plan on flying to Guam from high-risk areas, you must check Guam's Covid-19 guidelines. Daily. I'm not kidding.

 

I went ahead and saved you a search expedition on Google.

 

Guam Homeland Security and Office of Civil Defense https://www.ghs.guam.gov/coronavirus-covid-19

 

Department of Public Health and Social Services (DPHSS)

http://dphss.guam.gov/

 

I don't care what people say about the folks at DPHSS. Along with everyone in the health field, they're the real heroes that work hard, day in and out to keep Guam's infection numbers lower than the national average.

 

On an island that's 212 square miles during low tide and a population of 165,000 without tourists, we have 475 cases as of Aug. 13. Our infection rate is 2-3 percent vs. the U.S. mainland's 9-10 percent.

 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted a terrible notice about visiting "Guam country." We are a U.S. territory. We did not know we gained independence. Thanks, CDC. My comment about most Americans can't even find Guam on the map is sadly, still valid. Ask Kim Jong Un.

 

Our daily quarantine checker from DPHSS, a.k.a. "the Ministry of Health," is Miss Rose M. She's very helpful and a pleasure to communicate with. When I told her that I was unable to get through the phone lines due to last week's surge of 53 cases, she guided me through the process. She went out of her way to get the not so little children scheduled for testing and me. 

 

It was partly because of her compassion that I wrote this article.

 

Testing 1, 2, 3

 

We got tested on Monday, Aug. 10. The line of vehicles was pretty long, we toughed it out. A little over an hour later, I was happy that we brought Kleenex. We are patiently waiting for our results. This part sucks the most, not knowing if you have Covid, anxiety magnifying every cough and sniffle.

 

To date, I've been tested thrice in 30 days.

 

The health workers check us during random times to make sure we are home. They call and ask for us to come out and wave at them. I find this method useful in keeping folks who opted to home quarantine away from the public.

 

 

With more than a little help from my friends

 

I can't stress enough that I am so grateful for my friends. The ones that deliver food, groceries and beer are golden. Coffee in the morning from one of the better cafes on Guam? Sure, please, and thank you. The ones that talk to you even when your topic is looping on how you can't get out of your house are great. My girlfriend Carol, who's stuck in the Philippines, whom I haven't seen since my last visit late February, her patience during my times of stress and anxiety is becoming legendary. Her daughter Nicah (read her work!), has been a gem during my creative rants. An established support system when you're in quarantine is precious.

 

If your friend or a family member is in isolation, check on them regularly. It can get very lonely.

 

Our Governor and Lt. Governor tested positive

Before traveling and quarantine, I met with her and the Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio twice in her office, within 30 days. No handshaking. Just elbows. Masks all throughout the meetings. She wished she could hug us, but due to physical distancing, she could not. She's sweet like that. In her past life before serving as senator, CEO of the Bank of Guam, and then governor, she was a nurse. Her son Joaquin also tested positive.

 

She's been attacked from all sides about the way she's handled the pandemic. Right now, her critics are silent. I like to believe and always tell people who are willing to listen that Guamanians are the world's kindest people.

Guam and Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero may not be New Zealand and Jacinda, this can be attributed to a pronounced limitation. Our governor does not have the authority to close our borders. The Federal Aviation Administration does. Heck, we don't even get to vote for the U.S. president. With that said, she still instituted quarantine measures early in the pandemic. It's not a perfect solution, but it works.

 

We started wearing our masks in March. The island was on lockdown and followed strict distancing rules in essential businesses that stayed open. I got furloughed for seven weeks, and have been reinstated to my position last June.

 

Some people go nuts when they are forced to quarantine in a room for two weeks. They're not allowed out, and meals are delivered to them. I wondered why but did not want to find out, especially with two teens that require massive amounts of internet bandwidth and snacks.

 

We traveled through hot spots, so we needed to present our negative Covid test results at the airport. I went to an urgent care clinic in San Antonio and got my results from a Sofia SARS Antigen FIA test within twenty minutes. I was amazed that the clinic workers, nurse, PA, did not wear a face shield or a PPE gown.

 

The $200 I spent was worth it, knowing for sure that I tested negative. My sister Valerie, who hosted me during my five days in San Antonio (in exchange for a painting to keep me indoors), was understandably relieved. The kids received PCR tests from a military hospital where their mom works as a nurse. Negative results were sent over while we were in transit, waiting in LAX for our next flight. I simply showed the Guam screeners the results on my iPhone. They took a photo, and that was it. Simple. The irony is that we are the only ones we know that are negative for sure, but we are in leper status. 

 

Ideally, if funding was made available (probably cheaper than two weeks at a two-star hotel, just saying), we should have Sofia tests on arrival at the airport. Work it into the plane ticket price. So my girlfriend and friends and the 1.6 million people who visit Guam on an average year can visit. This will help in the long road ahead to restore our primary industry — tourism. Check out the video from the Guam Visitors Bureau to show some of the steps if you're coming to Guam as a tourist.

 

Over 35,000 Guamanians have lost their incomes, and businesses keep closing every day. Kitchen Lingo and KÅDU restaurants closed their doors last week. KÅDU House started a program called KÅDU Caregivers and delivered food to hundreds of families during the lockdown.

 

Before Covid, the island already had a third of its population receiving welfare, food stamps and Section 8 housing. The tidal wave of evictions is starting to happen.

 

"This virus doesn't discriminate. This virus is very contagious. It's very serious," the governor said. "Even with family, don't assume that your family's safe. Even with family, please put on your mask."

 

"Lastly, I implore everyone to use my experience as a reminder of just how serious and contagious this virus is. Help our island protect our loved ones," said Governor Lou Leon Guerrero.

 

"The virus is a bitch!" she added this morning on KUAM.

 

We stand with you, Governor. Thank you for the work you and your staff do in this tough and confusing time. Keep feeling better.

 

CJ Urquico, an artist from Mongmong village, is still in home quarantine with his children and patiently waiting for his test result. Send feedback to cj@urquico.com 

 

 

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