3rd Emergency Declaration set to lapse, public asks: What’s next?
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — With the Third Amended Emergency Declaration on COVID-19 set to lapse one-week from today, on May 1st, many in the community including the private sector are eager to learn whether Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga will ease certain restrictions, such as public gatherings and business operation hours.
Two weeks ago the governor requested the ASG COVID-19 Task Force and the Coronavirus Working Group to provide recommendations on “what our next steps would be when the current declaration lapses.”
At Sunday’s task force meeting, the governor hinted at lifting some local restrictions, when the current declaration lapses, but not reopening air service borders, as he remains concerned with the increase of COVID-19 cases in Hawaii and the US mainland.
As of 9a.m yesterday (American Samoa time), total US confirmed cases were at more than 856,000 with the highest number of deaths — 15,074 in New York City, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Responding to media inquiries, task force chairman Iulogologo Joseph Pereira said the task force and the working group are finalizing their recommendations for the “Governor's review and decision on our Next Steps.”
“It would be premature for us to disclose our recommendations as it might create confusion as the Governor has not reviewed or approved them,” he said yesterday morning.
Samoa News understands that the task force will take into consideration that American Samoa is the only US jurisdiction without a confirmed case and the impact on the current restriction of 6a.m to 6p.m for business hours operations. The American Samoa Chamber of Commerce is hoping for extended operating hours for gas stations and public transportation. StarKist Samoa and its supporting businesses are exempted from current restrictions while restaurants and drive thru fast food operations are allowed to open up to 10 p.m for “take out” only.
There have also been questions — both locally and from Samoans in the US — regarding the re-opening of air service between Honolulu and Pago Pago, which is currently suspended through June 1st, based on a request from the governor to Hawaiian Airlines.
When asked, Iulogologo pointed out that there is still a rising number of deaths in the US including Hawaii and the governor “doesn't want us to let up on our efforts to remain the only U.S. jurisdiction that is COVID-19 free.”
“Our borders are closed except for dire emergencies,” he said.
As for flights for Manu’a, Iulogologo said that Samoa Airways’ continued presence in the territory, with its aircraft and crew, is to accommodate medical and operational emergencies for the Manu'a Islands.
He reiterated that the Manu’a flights are for medical reasons only and for government employees to address emergency needs on Manu'a. “Travel by Manu'a residents remains restricted as social distancing is still being practiced along with the curtailment of movement within our population,” he stressed.
$35 MILLION CARES ACT FUNDS
Asked about the more than $35.1 million that ASG recently received from the US Treasury Department under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the task force chairman said that at this “junction no payment has been distributed” from this money.
He explained that the Governor met with government agencies receiving COVID-19 funds and gave instructions for their plans to be submitted for the governor’s “review and approval on the proposed use of these funds before any funds are distributed.”
Iulogologo also said that the governor has approved the Department of Human and Social Services Distribution Plan that is now “being implemented which placed in the hands of our community over $2 million. This is good for our business community.”
Samoa News notes that this DHSS money includes payment subsidies to day care centers. (See Samoa News edition Apr. 15th for details.)
ASG’s $35.1 million from the US Treasury will be used to cover costs that are necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19 pandemic. The funds will also be used to cover costs not accounted for in the federal budget most recently approved as of Mar. 27, 2020 and were incurred during the period that begins Mar. 1, 2020 and ends on Dec. 30, 2020.