A Place in the US With No Covid-19? Look to American Samoa.

by May 6, 2020American Samoa, Bocaítos, Coronavirus0 comments

The New York Times has covered one of the surprising tales of the COVID-19 pandemic: the fact that the only United States jurisdiction to remain free of cases is American Samoa. Through a look at the history of the island territory, its neighboring state of Samoa, and the actions of local officials the paper of record explains how the situation is possible.

Other U.S. islands lost their early battles to keep the infection out. But American Samoa’s success so far has been no accident, public health officials say. The territory moved swiftly to halt nearly all incoming flights, rapidly boosted testing ability and took advantage of social distancing strategies that had already been adopted in response to a measles outbreak at the end of last year.

The enduring trauma of the 1918 influenza pandemic, which left American Samoa relatively unscathed but wiped out a fifth of the population of neighboring independent Samoa, has also influenced aggressive anti-contagion moves at each stage of the crisis.

“Life in our bubble is somewhat unique compared to the rest of the world,” said Bishop Peter Brown, leader of the Roman Catholic church in American Samoa. Church services were quickly shut down when the coronavirus began its spread across the United States, he said.

Schools had been preparing to emerge from a measles closure in effect from December through early March when a “continuing” public health emergency was declared, effective on March 23.

What this article fails to mention is that among any state or territory American Samoa is unique in that it is the only allowed to control its immigration. Governor Lolo M. Moliga (D) swiftly moved to suspend all flights to the islands, something no other governor can do, even as some, like the Governor of Puerto Rico asked to do so.

All in all, the apparent success of American Samoa is likely due to several factors, but this might be one of very few instances in which being a territory (with rather unique powers) instead of a state might have yielded a benefit; a relevant consideration given recent discussions about the political status of the islands, and their inhabitants.