Entry requirements to be reviewed after incident with FEMA contractor
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Dept. of Health is reviewing its policy for entry requirements into the territory during the coronavirus pandemic, following an incident on July 17th when a contractor with the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was returned back to Honolulu following a doctor’s advice, after it was discovered she had previously tested positive for COVID-19.
At Sunday’s COVID-19 task force meeting the issue of the female FEMA contractor came up during the DoH presentation of its work at the airport the night of the FEMA flight that brought in the contractor who was returned on the same flight.
LBJ hospital chief medical officer, Dr. Iotamo Saleapaga said the FEMA official should not have been allowed to board the plane. He inquired whether there was a health report regarding this official.
Health director Motusa Tuileama Nua said the latest test presented showed a negative result but upon further questioning by the DoH doctor at the airport, it was then learned that the individual had previously tested positive and that is the reason she was returned on the same flight.
Dr. Saleapaga said such incidents shouldn’t happen again and suggested DoH thoroughly assesses travelers — especially if the person originates from a COVID-19 affected area. He noted that with the suspension of Hawaiian Airlines flights, it’s cases like this one that would “put us in a black hole.”
Local Homeland Security director Alfonso Pete Galeai suggested that the current requirement of a negative COVID-19 test 72-hours prior to arrival should also require some history of the traveler. Such as asking if the traveler had previously tested positive before the current negative test.
DOH Epidemiologist Dr. Aifili John Tufa informed the task force that “FEMA did follow our protocol of providing a negative test three-days prior to travel. It was when the female FEMA official arrived here when we then asked, if she had been positive prior. That’s when she revealed the information.”
“I think we are going to be working with the task force to update our policies so that we can reflect that making sure that an assessment of the test results before getting on the plan,” said Dr. Tufa.
Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga noted that coming up with the policy was given to DoH and medical professionals to develop, as the input of doctors is important.
“Our policy is set in which anyone that enters [the territory]... has to be tested 3-days before they can board the plane. It doesn’t matter what they say, that is our set policy. On the other hand instances such as this case, that’s when the medical people come in,” he said.
Lolo said he was called about this case and he told Motusa that “I like to know what the doctor says.” And based on the doctor’s recommendation the individual was returned on the same flight, said the governor.
“So set up that policy that no matter who comes in, the governor or whom ever, has got to be tested 3-days before boarding the plane. Upon arrival here, tested again, then a required 14-day quarantine,” the governor said. “There’s no two-ways about it.”
Lolo said these health issues should be precise based on recommendations from the doctors and policies set accordingly. “If you think the policy should change, let us know,” he said.
Motusa noted that the entry requirements call for a negative COVID-19 test 72-hours before arrival and that the traveler must have a health clearance. He offered apologies regarding this incident, saying that the policy will undergo another review and the task force will be informed.
According to the DoH presentation, as of last Saturday a total of 1,367 individuals — including the 274 passengers on the July 21st medical charter flight to Hawaii — have been tested for the virus and all results came back negative.
DoH statistics on the repatriation flights from Samoa, which as of July 1st, shows a total of 239 local residents returned from Apia on flights operated by both Samoa Airways and Talofa Airways. On the return flights to Apia, a total of 170 people were on these flights and these were Samoa citizens.
Furthermore, 173 travelers from the repatriation flights have completed their quarantine period, while 38 remain in quarantine at the Fatuoaiga Center.
As the repatriations flights continue to the end of this month, the DoH issued last week a health advisory, reminding families, relatives and friends about some of the restrictions they must adhere to — such as repatriated residents will have NO physical contact with families and relatives during the quarantine period.
Family members may provide to the repatriated resident, toiletries (toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, shampoo etc.), mobile phone, charger, internet data or MiFi, required medications, snacks, reading books/puzzles, cloth face covering or masks, towels, and sufficient changes of clothes. These items can be dropped off at the gate or security checkpoint.
Families are allowed to pick up soiled linen for their family members in quarantine. Public Health advises families to separate quarantine laundry from the usual family washing, use gloves and masks (or a cloth face covering) when handling laundry from quarantine. Wash hands thoroughly after.
Everyone is reminded that there is 24-hour security on site and that alcohol, illegal drugs and pets are not allowed.