Guam deals with coronavirus threat

by | Mar 10, 2020 | Coronavirus, Guam | Comments

Some Guamanians are worried about the new coronavirus. “Guam is a small island, it could go around fast,” said Dededo resident Rose Alviz, 28. Regarding these fears, Governor Lou Leon Guerrero (D) said the island is preparing for the worst and hoping for the best in response to the coronavirus.

She said the government is looking at every scenario officials can think of so that they can plan accordingly.

Although there have been no confirmed cases here, Leon Guerrero said Guam is suffering economic impacts from the coronavirus. As of publishing time, the territory has 2 suspected cases.

“We are already seeing employees being cut in their hours or laid off,” she said. “We’re looking at how that would impact our revenues.”

GovGuam needs to continue to provide public services, but also needs to figure out how it can help soften the economic impact, Leon Guerrero said. Her message to the private sector is to implement business continuity plans.

“I’ve seen that already happening, and so we’re seeing a lot of discounted prices in restaurants and hotels,” she said. In the past, locals have helped businesses stay open during challenging times. The governor is also looking at military spending, which would help the island’s economy.

“I think there’s going to be sustained military spending,” she said.

The military buildup continues, and the military is diverting more ships to Guam rather than to Asia, she said. The government also recently spent millions of dollars paying war claims, and continues to pay out tax returns, she said. Leon Guerrero said those factors need to be weighed when talking about economic impacts. GovGuam is working diligently to prepare, she said.

“We’ve weathered something like this a few years ago, and we’ve rebounded and I feel like that’s what’s going to happen,” Leon Guerrero said.

Leon Guerrero has had discussions about isolation facilities for Guam if needed, including the Guam Memorial Hospital and the Skilled Nursing Unit in Barrigada. The University of Guam Calvo Fieldhouse could be a place for mass quarantine, Leon Guerrero said.

But she said the best thing is for people to self-quarantine at their homes to recover. If someone is feeling very sick, then they should go to the hospital, but staying home to have the virus run its course so others aren’t infected is the best option.

Emergency Pandemic Fund

Nine senators introduced Bill 308-35 to create and fund an Emergency Pandemic Fund, a release from Speaker Tina Muña Barnes (D) stated.

As Guam responds to the global coronavirus outbreak, the Legislature intends to give the governor funding to continue to protect island residents. The measure would take up to $1 million from the Rainy Day Fund to set aside for any pandemic that GovGuam may need to respond to, the release stated.

The fund can cover proactive prevention efforts, purchasing of screening equipment and medical supplies, leasing of quarantine facilities, hiring of medical and emergency personnel as well as the activation of the Guam Army National Guard.

The measure would create a funding source for GovGuam to act immediately, but once the federal government approves an emergency spending measure, GovGuam can be reimbursed to the extent federal law permits, the release stated.

Entry Restriction

Entry restrictions on individuals arriving in Guam from China remain in place as of Friday, February 21, due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

All non-US citizens who have been physically present in China within 14 days prior to arrival will be denied entry into Guam. US citizens, permanent residents, and family members to US citizens will be allowed to enter the territory but will be placed under a 14-day quarantine.

Rumors

Last week, a WhatsApp and social media rumor spread claiming three people have the virus on Guam, including someone at Guam Regional Medical City. That is false, DeNorcey said.

The Department of Health and Social Services double-checked with the private hospital, and confirmed that at the time no coronavirus cases existed. DeNorcey encouraged residents to not spread unverified information regarding the public health issue.

Economic Impact

Governor Leon Guerrero’s fiscal team and other experts Thursday said the coronavirus impact on Guam’s economy could be disastrous if it’s prolonged.

But the negatives could be offset by potential increase in military arrivals, buildup construction, local tourism and pre-virus revenue collections exceeding target by $29 million, among other things.

I think Guam is going to run into some pretty serious problems unless this coronavirus is resolved very quickly,” economist Joseph Bradley said.

But there’s some room for optimism. Military shore leaves and exercises, for example, could be diverted from Korea, Japan and other countries where there have been confirmed coronavirus cases, he said. He also said military humanitarian missions could also stop over on Guam.

These are all possibilities and potentials, but not certainties at this time, he said, adding that this also holds true as long as Guam remains coronavirus-free. To date, Guam has no coronavirus case, and the governor’s fiscal team, led by Bureau of Budget and Management Research Director Lester Carlson Jr., said the goal is to keep it that way.

Optimism amid the virus scare is carried out by the governor’s decision to not change the proposed budget for fiscal 2021 at this time, Carlson said. Carlson, however, said that Adelup is closely monitoring the impacts of the virus scare and will respond accordingly. GovGuam has been able to weather previous fiscal concerns, he said.

Revenue and Taxation Director Dafne Shimizu said revenue collections have not been impacted yet by the virus scare. She said collection of past due taxes continues. Gary Hiles of the Guam Department of Labor said the economic outlook for 2020 and 2021 remains optimistic because of military buildup-related construction.

Advice

Although there are no reported suspected or confirmed coronavirus cases on Guam, the community is advised to practice the same efforts that would prevent influenza or any other respiratory illness:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water;
  • Avoid touching your mouth, eyes and nose with unwashed hands;
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick;
  • Practice proper cough etiquette – cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash;
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects or surfaces;
  • Stay home from school or work when you are sick; and
  • Get your flu shot; although it will not protect from the coronavirus, it will protect from another common respiratory illness.

Test Kits

Testing kits for the new coronavirus won’t be coming to Guam after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found issues with them. The Department of Public Health and Social Services had expected the testing kits for COVID-19 to arrive on Guam soon, but the CDC informed the agency that quality control measures identified problems with the kits, a release stated.

The CDC is remanufacturing the test kits to ensure that laboratories have effective and reliable kits, the release stated. Many US state and territorial laboratories, including Guam’s Public Health lab, will begin testing locally once the remanufactured test kits arrive.

There is no specific timeframe for when the kits will arrive on Guam, the release stated.

Currently, all testing, for COVID-19 continues to be performed at the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia.