Northern Mariana Islands work to slowly transition to next phase of the pandemic
The Northern Mariana Islands Office of the Governor announced June 12 that the community-based COVID-19 testing operations on the islands of Saipan, Rota, and Tinian would be suspended until further notice, effective on Saturday, June 13. The Office of the Governor stated in this Friday press release that this change will allow them to “shift CNMI efforts toward the villages” and “better accommodate work schedules/requirements and people with limited transportation,” and Governor Ralph Torres intends to release details soon on this next phase of testing.
This move follows the testing of approximately 14% of the Marianas population (more than 7,500 people) since April 28, and a current total of 30 confirmed cases and two deaths. The Marianas remain at a “Code Yellow” level of risk, indicating “medium” risk in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Until Saturday, June 13, the Marianas government required COVID-19 testing upon arrival for all incoming international travelers, followed by a mandatory quarantine period and immediate contact tracing of any positive cases. This protocol successfully identified multiple asymptomatic cases before the carriers were released from quarantine and is responsible for the identification of seven (23%) of the islands’ confirmed cases.
On June 5, the Governor’s COVID-19 Task Force received approval from the US Office of Insular Affairs to acquire an oxygen generator system in addition to other specialized equipment totaling $487,182, accounting for 12.05% of the total grant award of more than $4 million. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Department of Labor will accept applications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance beginning on June 17, with the application period closing on December 26, 2020.
The Marianas’ Public School System is “currently working on all possible scenarios for the opening of the new school year,” according to the Saipan Tribune’s May 28 report. They have established a tentative reopening date in September, pending advice and approval by the Governor’s COVID-19 Task Force. Education Commissioner Dr. Alfred Ada said in an interview that they were considering three main options: the total reopening of schools, the partial reopening of schools, and fully remote learning. He added: “We are finding out that not all of our community is ready for remote learning. We’re trying to but, under partial opening, we will have small groups. We will be prepared for all the scenarios so that we can adjust based on the data we have.” According to the latest Broadband Survey released by the Department of Commerce in 2014, only 87 percent of Marianas homes had internet access.