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American Samoa only US locale with no confirmed COVID-19 cases

Code Blue graphic

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — As the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. continues to grow as well as the number of fatalities due to this deadly virus, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has issued a new directive, which implements new staffing levels for the ASG workforce, with the goal of preventing the spread of the virus, through social distancing.

This preventive measure was emphasized by US President Trump on Monday during a White House briefing, calling on Americans to stay home, and extended to Apr. 30th the social distancing guidelines. He called refraining from public outings “our shared patriotic duty” during the virus outbreak.

As of yesterday morning (local time) there are 181,099 confirm cases in the US with 3,606 deaths — with New York having the highest fatality rate at 932, according to John Hopkins University & Medicine, which keeps a running tally for the virus globally.

American Samoa is the only US jurisdiction with no confirmed cases, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data as of yesterday morning. The US territory of the Northern Mariana Islands early this week recorded its first two confirmed cases.

In his Mar. 30th memo to cabinet members, Lolo noted the “importance of enforcing social distancing as being the most effective measure to abate the spread of COVID-19” as the number of cases and deaths continue to grow in the US and other territories — and — “it behooves us to expand our efforts in promoting this preventive alternative.”

“Accordingly, I am compelled to move the working format to 50% staffing level for work day” for ASG from Code-Yellow to current Code Blue threat level, beginning in the new pay period, he said.

(When Code-Blue went into effect on Mar. 23rd, ASG’s agencies staggered working hours for workers, equivalent to four-days a week per employee but still receives a full-40-days — or 10-hours a day for four days.)

Under the 50% staffing level, Lolo said each director has the discretion on how to implement this requirement to satisfy their office’s needs. Any other inquiries as to compliance are to be directed to the Human Resources Department.

He explained that Tier One employees, per determination of the director, would work on Monday/ Wednesday while Tier Two employees determined by the director would work Tuesday/ Thursday.

For Friday, the governor said the director would make sure that essential personnel are scheduled to work to ensure that service to the public will not be disrupted or compromised.

“On days in which an employee is not scheduled to work at the office, they are required to work from home depending on the nature of their duties,” he said, noting that all employees will be compensated for 40-hours per week while first-responders and essential personnel will be staffed for 24/7 operations.

“Compliance with this directive is mandatory for all agencies, offices and departments,” said Lolo, adding that ASG semi-autonomous agencies have the discretion to “implement the spirit of this advisory to make sure that the quality of services to the people are not interrupted or compromised”

According to the governor, this requirement is being put in place in accordance with the COVID-19 emergency declaration allowing amendments to restrictions “as the curve changes” in the US mainland and Hawai’i.

Despite this change in restriction, the governor declared that American Samoa remains under Code Blue threat level.

Local businesses, including major retail outlets, have already implemented social distancing and have encouraged the elderly and young children to stay home and for one-family member to do the family shopping.

At ASG semi-autonomous agencies, such as American Samoa Power Authority and American Samoa TeleCommunications Authority, they too have in place a social distancing policy.

At ASTCA, it has limited to a “maximum of two people at any given time” to enter its retail stores in Tafuna, Nu’uuli and Fagatogo. Customers waiting outside are encouraged to practice social distancing. At ASPA, customers will be screened before entry into its offices at the Tafuna compound and Pago Plaza. At times, “we will reduce the number of customers entering the two facilities and we ask for your cooperation.”

Both ASTCA and ASPA are providing new updates on their social media platforms. Their social distancing policies are not sitting well with some members of the public with complaints.

Across the US, states and cities issued orders to stay-home, as well as to practice social distancing. More states are joining others in requiring a 14-day quarantine for travelers from other states, where the virus has a high confirmation rate and deaths.