Declaration of Continued Public Health Emergency — effective immediately in American Samoa
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — “Effective Immediately” — all entry permits and entry permit waivers for those traveling through Samoa and Tonga “are suspended until further notice,” according to provisions of Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga’s “Declaration of Continued Public Health Emergency” which also provides a 30-day amnesty for “overstayers” in the territory to correct their immigration status, if they show up to get an MMR shot.
The initial emergency declaration was issued Nov. 13th and valid for 30-days and the new one extends or continues the current state of emergency after nine measles case were confirmed in American Samoa, the governor said during yesterday morning’s (Sunday) cabinet meeting, where four ASG agencies presented their response to the measles emergency crisis.
“Only entry permits and entry permit waivers for medical emergency situations will be approved but must be reviewed by the Governor’s Office for final approval,” the declaration points out.
It also states that all foreigners “present in the territory as of today that are without lawful status and considered an ‘overstayer’, will qualify to apply for amnesty upon receiving a vaccination and presenting confirmation” of the immunization shots from the Department of Health.
However, the governor said those foreign overstayers with “felony convictions are not eligible to apply,” but points out that the Immigration Board “is given broad discretion in evaluating applicants character otherwise.”
Additionally, the numerical limitations provided under immigration law which sets the number of foreigners from countries entering American Samoa annually are suspended in accordance with provision of other laws.
“This amnesty program will last for 30-days, concurrent with this Declaration and registration will begin Dec. 9 (today) at the Immigration Office,” Lolo said, adding that at the end of the 30-days this program will close for registration.
For all residents of American Samoa, the governor declared that traveling to or from countries affected with measles will be subject to Department of Health screening policies and examination to ensure compliance with measles vaccinations at all port of entry.
The declaration also notes that all public gatherings including but not limited to bingo halls, church functions (such as rallies, car wash, fundraising and picnics), Christmas parties, gathering at public parks, 1st and 3rd Friday events at the Fagatogo Marketplace, flight night gatherings (only travelers permitted) at the airport “are all cancelled”.
Samoa News will report tomorrow on other specifics of the declaration as well as the governor’s remarks at the cabinet meeting.
With 9 confirmed measles cases, the Department of Health declared last Friday afternoon a measles “outbreak” in American Samoa, resulting in the government closing all public schools and daycare centers — effective today, Dec. 9th — and gatherings in public parks and bingo games are not permitted. Many private schools followed suit, and have closed school.
The announcement of the outbreak and actions taken by the government to prevent further spread of measles was made Friday afternoon during a live broadcast, on KVZK-TV and local radio stations, of the government-organized “Fesoasoani Alofa mo Samoa Fundraising” to help neighboring Samoa, which has fallen victim to an epidemic that has claimed over 60 lives, most of them babies.
By the end of Friday’s fundraising, which runs through Dec. 20th, the committee collected just over $75,000 in donations. Prior to the public announcement, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga met earlier Friday morning with ASG officials including Health director, Motusa Tuileama Nua, who briefed Lolo on the confirmed cases and other information. Lolo gave the verbal order for the measles outbreak, with a written executive order to follow.
During the broadcast, DOH epidemiologist Dr. Aifili John Tufa, PhD explained that samples were sent to Hawaii for testing and results came back Thursday, resulting in the move to inform the public that “we are currently in a state of emergency” and an “outbreak is currently occurring” in the territory.
Of the 9 samples that tested positive, he said, “five of them are travel associated — meaning these are individuals that most likely were exposed in their country of origin and then traveled to American Samoa and that’s when the symptoms arose and they became sick.”
For the other 4 confirmed cases, “we’re suspecting that it is local transmission — meaning it’s most likely that some of these travelers did transmit the measles virus to them, causing them to be sick.”
He shared concerns faced by health officials, saying it was revealed during “our investigation” that some residents were not born in American Samoa, and therefore, “we do not have records of their MMR vaccination history.”
“And some of them, we have identified, were sick with the measles here, then they got better but did not present themselves to the hospital so we can track these numbers,” he explained further. He said DOH is sure the local cases “are not isolated events because the outbreak” in Samoa started in late October and “there is a possibility, that this has been going on throughout American Samoa and we’re finally finding out now.”
Dr. Saipale Fuimaono reminds the public that the best protection against measles is to get vaccinated, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sending today, Dec. 9th, a vaccination shipment for American Samoa.
Data presented by Dr. Tufa at last week’s cabinet meeting showed a 99.7% vaccination rate for Mumps, Measles and Rubella in American Samoa. However, he said more needs to be done to up the rate for the 1-5 year age group which is currently at 84.7% “The number one way to stop the spread of measles is to immunize,” he said.
Motusa informed cabinet members that one of the challenges faced by DoH is trying to identify the “unknown population” — residents who have not gotten their MMR shots. He says there are residents who need to get immunized but are hiding in fear that DoH is Immigration and they’re looking for them.
He said the “unknown population” numbers is something DoH is working on, although some of them are just now coming forward to get vaccinated.
Human and Social Services director Muavaefa’atasi John Suisala said all daycare centers will be closed effective today, until further notice. Also starting today, a medical team from DoH will be stationed at the DHSS offices for the American Samoa Nutrition Assistance Program (ASNAP), or Food stamp, and the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program.
Muavaefa’atasi said recipients of these programs coming in to pick up their benefits must provide a record of their immunizations at the window. He strongly recommends not taking any children to these offices. He said only the person needing assistance should show up, with their shot record. Unless of course, the person is elderly and needs a family member to bring him/ her to the offices.