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COVID-19 Task Force unclear on use of THS gym for quarantine

Tafuna High School sign.
Govt appears to be opposed to using private sector facilities

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — ASG’s COVID-19 Task Force, Iulogologo Joseph Pereira has responded to a request from Tafuna High School Parents and Teachers Association president William Spitzenberg not to use the high school’s gymnasium as a temporary quarantine facility.

The Health Department, during a briefing with task force members two weeks ago, identified the gymnasiums at Tafuna High and Tafuna Elementary as quarantine facilities that could comfortably accommodate 50- 80 people if needed.

Two weeks ago, Spitzenberg sent an opposition letter to Iuogologo, who was asked to reconsider the task force’s decision to use the Tafuna gym as a quarantine facility. Spitzenberg argued among other things that the gym is not suited and does not meet the requirements of a COVID-19 Quarantine Facility. (See Samoa News edition Mar. 31st for details.)

Last Friday, Iulogologo responded to Spitzenberg that, “We are in a crisis situation and we are scrambling to find space to quarantine travelers entering our territory including our own people.”

He agreed with Spitzenberg that the high school’s gym is “not an ideal place” for a quarantine facility but added that so are the other facilities that the government is using.

“We are not prepared like every other State and territory to respond effectively to this pandemic,” he said and concurred with Spitzenberg the reasons behind the PTA’s request “are reasonable”.

“But the Governor is afraid that the Coronavirus wave will soon reach our shores,” Iulogologo continued. “Hence, the Governor is taking every precaution to preempt the entry and the spread of the deadly disease.”

He explained that ASG is “frantically building quarantine facilities with required amenities” to properly quarantine travelers from outside or if the inevitable happens relative to the spread of the virus.

“Life as we know it is being radially transformed thus sacrifices need to me made by all quarters of our community,” he said. “The reason prompting the Governor to cancel schools is to practice social distancing and social isolation and teachers are supposed to stay home along with others who you claim still request the gym.”

Spitzenberg had also noted that the gym is not secure as the security fence surrounding the campus has several sections with long lengths of missing fencing and damaged gates.

In response, Iulogologo said the Department of Public Safety has ben fully empowered to enforce without prejudice the provisions of the governor’s COVID-19 emergency declaration.

“Security is provided at all established quarantine centers. When these new quarantine facilities are completed the need for the use of the Gym is abated,” he said, noting that “we know full well that our temporary quarantine facilities fall short of the standard requirements, but at this time we have no recourse.”

Spitzenberg had recommend that the Task Force work with local hotels and motel owners on a special rate for this emergency, noting that there’s possible assistance from the federal government as well.

“We would have loved to quarantine people at the hotels, the question is where will we get the money to cover these costs?” was Iulogologo’s response. “Our success in overcoming this deadly disease is assistance from leaders like you to discourage activities which cause people to congregate as this is the conduit through which the virus is propagated.”

Using local hotels and other accommodations on island was also recommended by the American Samoa Chamber of Commerce as well as others in the private sector in an effort to boost the economy during this difficult time.  Iulogologo had provided a similar response to the Chamber as to what he told Spitzenberg.