All religious services are suspended effective today, Apr. 3rd
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — All religious services are to be suspended effective today, Apr. 3rd, under Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga’s Third Amended Emergency Declaration for the coronavirus pandemic issued Wednesday night, while ASG’s change in staffing level was effective Monday this week.
Both moves by the governor are to prevent the spread of the deadly virus by practicing “social distancing”.
In releasing the Third Amendment to cabinet members and the news media, ASG’s COVID-19 Task Force chairman Iulogologo Joseph Pereira explained that when the original declaration was issued last month, the governor refrained from dictating protocols to the Religious Sector based on the separation of State and Religion — a Constitutional precept.
“Notwithstanding, the exponential escalation of the curve in many of the [U.S] States has heightened the Governor's worry over the fate of our people, hence, he has exercised his authority given the deadliness of this disease to mandate aggressive implementation of the social-distancing protocol given the Health experts have strenuously recommended to practice social distancing,” he explained.
“The Governor fundamentally respects the autonomy of the Churches but in this case protecting the lives of our people is the Governor's preeminent concern,” Iulogologo said.
According to the amendment, “All church meetings, services, and events are suspended until further notice effective April 3, 2020. The threat posed by the pandemic require drastic social distancing measures and churches are encouraged to continue worship services remotely via video conferencing technology.”
Several local religious denominations have already cancelled Sunday services and scaled back other planned activities or cancelled them all together.
The Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa (CCCAS) — the largest faith in the territory — has allowed only one church service on Sunday for each congregation, according to a church announcement, which also cancelled all other usual services and activities.
For CCCAS member churches in the U.S., New Zealand and Australia — where cases of the virus are wide-spread, they have been informed to suspend all Sunday services as well as other usual events and services.
Since the suspension of Sunday Mass, effective Mar. 23rd, Catholic Dioceses of Samoa Pago Pago has provided online Mass and Holy Week services on KVZK-TV.
Bishop Peter Brown announced yesterday that, “we accept the Governor’s declaration to suspend all Church services in American Samoa. This covers all services, for example, weekday masses and Way of the Cross.”
“I implore you all to put one hundred percent into family prayer at home. Use all your creative skills to join with your kids to pray to God and Mary for her intercession,” said Bishop Brown, who reminded the Catholic faithful to remember the online Sunday mass.
ASG STAFFING LEVEL
In his Mar. 30th memo to cabinet members, Lolo moved “the working format to 50% staffing level for work day” for ASG workforce from Code-Yellow to current Code Blue threat level, beginning in the new pay period. (See Samoa News edition Apr. 1st.)
Responding to media follow-up questions, Iulogologo clarified that the 50% staffing levels became effective Monday this week.
“Each employee will work on site 20 hours and 20 hours off-site each week. The director is given the discretion to make sure services are not interrupted or quality compromised,” he said.
Iulogologo explained that off-site means that the employee must stay within the confines of his/ her home and not travel into town to do errands. And if the employee violates this protocol with the presentation of verifiable proof the employee will not be paid for 8 hours that day.
He points out that the governor’s reasons for moving this protocol to Code-Blue is primarily to practice social distancing, but also for the government employees to take the lead and be advocators within their immediate families to emphasize the deadlines of this disease and the need for everyone to take responsibility.
“The US curve is exponentially rising and the best practice thus far to contain the virus is social distancing and for people to stay home,” Iulogologo explained. “Moreover, the Governor is extremely concerned because we can not conduct tests, and we have to send our specimens to Hawaii for analysis which is taking one to two weeks to get the results back.”
With the suspension of Hawaiian Airlines flights — which was requested by the governor to the airline — the task force and ASG is working with the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to see how these specimens can be sent out quicker.
“If the tests come back positive the COVID-19 disease would have been widely spread in our community which will surely collapse our healthcare system,” said Iulogologo. “Thus, the Governor wants to take every precaution to ensure that if the tests come back positive, we would have taken aggressive steps to slow its spread.”
“It is now estimated that 244,000 Americans will die from this disease. So Governor Lolo doesn't want our people to be part of those statistics,” he said. “It is for this reason also that government employees heed the objective for which they are to work off-site.”
During a White House press briefing Wednesday, televised nationally, US President Donald Trump reiterated the importance of social distancing and the reason these preventive practice guidelines are extended for 30-days to slow the spread of the virus.
“Together, we have the power to save countless lives. We’re attacking the virus on every front with social distancing, economic support for our workers, rapid medical intervention, and very serious innovation, and banning dangerous foreign travel that threatens the health of our people,” he declared.
A running tally by John Hopkins University and Medicine shows that as of yesterday morning (local time) the US has 216,768 confirmed cases - with 8,710 people who have recovered — while the death toll reached 5,137. New York has the highest fatality number with 1,347.