ASG’s 9 repat flights brought home 1839 residents costing $20+ million
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — American Samoa spent nearly $40.87 million to support COVID-19 Safe Travel operations in 2021, with more than $20 million expended for repatriation flights from Hawaii, according to the American Samoa’s Response to the COVID Pandemic: COVID-19 Task Force Operations Report 2021, released Monday by the Governor’s Office.
The report noted that various funding sources were utilized to support COVID- 19 related operations last year including funds from the US Department of Interior Office of Insular Affairs’ Technical Assistance Program (TAP), Medicaid, Federal Emergency Management Agency, American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), CARES Act, Governor’s Office Special Programs, and the Department of Health.
When the Lemanu-Talauega Administration took the helm of government on Jan. 03, 2021, Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga in his inaugural address promised to bring home the many local residents stranded across the U.S and the following month the first repatriation flight from Honolulu was launched.
The COVID-19 operation cost report says that ASG operated nine repatriation charter flights, with over 1,839 passengers from Hawaii and the US mainland traveling on these flights, and including very strict pre-quarantine and testing in Honolulu.
The ASG repatriation operation included the repatriation back to the United States of U.S. residents and other foreign citizens stranded in American Samoa when borders were closed in March 2020, with a total of 18 outbound charters. The outbound travelers also included medical referrals, students returning to college and new military recruits.
Concurrently, charter flights continued to operate between American Samoa and Pacific countries (such as Samoa, Tonga, Fiji) for repatriation of residents, US Visa applications, special skilled workers, and most recently healthcare personnel to assist with shortages at the LBJ Medical Center and the Department of Health.
The report summarizes COVID-19 operations costs totaling just over $40.86 million — with more than $20.47 million for Hawaii/ U.S Repat flight operations; $8.25 million on Hawaii/ U.S commercial flights; $623,621on Pacific islands flight operations; $6.05 million in vaccination outreach and incentives; and nearly $5.46 million in personnel costs — which includes overtime and the one-time hero pay for task force members and its support group.
Of these costs, the report said $27.7 million — or 70% — was paid to local vendors for quarantine and vaccination operations and in overtime and incentives for frontline workers and essential support staff that spanned the American Samoa Government.
Additionally, $13.2 million (or 30%) was spent on off-island costs for quarantine operations in Hawaii, the report says, noting that the repatriation phase represents half of total costs due to concurrent operations in both Hawaii and American Samoa.
The report also detailed the list of local and off-island vendors paid to provide critical COVID-19 operation services. It also provides a breakdown of costs and a summary explanation by category of expenses — for example, quarantine facilities for a total of nearly $12.82 million of which $9.35 million was local expenses and $3.46 million in off-island expenses.
The report explained that 1,830 travelers underwent quarantine in both Hawaii and American Samoa during the repatriation period. Since commercial flights resumed, 1,566 travelers have been quarantined in American Samoa alone. And estimates from the Department of Health show that over 5,400 individuals — comprising ASG personnel, crews from Pacific repatriation flights, and other special missions — were processed through quarantine in 2021.
During the repatriation operation, White Sands Hotel in Honolulu was used for the first flight while Waikiki Ohana East Hotel was used for subsequent repatriation flights. The hotels were utilized for pre-quarantine of passengers. The report also identifies the facilities used in American Samoa for quarantine, such as Tradewinds Hotel (which was the initial site), Sadie’s by the Sea hotel, Fatuoaiga facility, and DoH’s Alternate Care Facilities.
“Many issues arose with the hotels mostly in damages and smoking charges to the hotels and was ultimately borne by the ASG. ASG may continue to pursue legal action to recoup these unplanned costs,” the report points out.
According to the report, $3.6 million went to “Food/Meals”, and the money was utilized to provide thousands of travelers in quarantine with 3 meals a day in both Hawaii and American Samoa. It notes that the number of days spent in quarantine varied with each phase and reached up to 24 days in the initial phases of repatriation.
Upon the phasing out of repatriation operations and the elimination of pre-travel quarantine in the latter half of the year, the report said, food services were reduced to post-travel quarantine only in American Samoa. And food costs for public workers and key COVID-19 operation personnel and special meals for passengers with dietary accommodations were also included.
Local vendors used for the operation “were numerous”, the report said and identified them, such as Cecilia's Restaurant, KS Mart, Sadie’s by the Sea, DDW, Night Hawk, Moana O Sina, A & E, Paradise Pizza.
Hawaii vendors included Bistro on the Go, FCH Zippy's, L & L, and Happy Bento to name a few.
Samoa News will report in future editions on other expenses cited in the report.