DoH says it “has a plan” if we open up our borders for repatriation
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — “It is still the Department of Health’s position that we do not recommend travel to and from areas of known COVID-19 infections,” said DoH Epidemiologist Dr. Aifili John Tufa during the department’s coronavirus presentation at last Thursday’s emergency cabinet meeting.
However, he said that in the event that “we do open up our borders for repatriation” DoH has a plan and gave a snapshot of details that is set in four-phases. He explained that the first phase is an online registration with the main issue that what “we want to get here is to generate a list of residents, hoping to get repatriated.”
Dr. Tufa explained, “Again, we’re hoping only legal residents of American Samoa will qualify to repatriate. And this list will have to be vetted through the Attorney General’s Office.
“Once we have a good list, a team of physicians will review the applications and will inform those who have applied that they are now good to move onto the next phase.”
DoH has set up a portal website for these people to register but the portion of the website for people to register is active only, “until such a time we get the okay from our leadership,” he said.
Once DoH has a good list, Dr. Tufa said, “we will decide who is going to Phase Two, which is 10-days quarantine in Hawaii. And in this quarantine phase, all applicants approved from phase one will be contacted for instruction and the start date.
“We’re not putting out a start date yet, we’re just saying that these are the processes we have in place,” he said, noting that once in quarantine all applicants will be monitored daily by medical personnel.
And before entering quarantine in Hawaii, “we have to make sure they have a negative COVID-19 test, health clearance form, and we need to get those forms in 3 days before the quarantine start-date.”
During the 10-day quarantine, the applicant will undergo health assessment. And on Day 7, the passengers will go through their 72-hour — or three-day before arrival — virus tests (which is a currently a requirement under the governor’s COVID-19 declaration). Passengers must also have their travel clearance form.
“Once the whole 10-day quarantine is completed, then we’ll have a list of those hoping they will get on the plane to come here,” he said, and points out that Phase Three is when they arrive in American Samoa.
Dr. Tufa recalled the government’s full scale exercise held recently at the airport, where (mock) passengers on the repatriation flight arrive. He points out that the passengers will go through their initial assessment and they will be assigned to a DoH designated quarantine station.
In between Day 5 and Say 7, they will be retested for COVID-19. On Day 12 and 14, this is when the final test will occur. “If everything is okay during the 14-day period, they will be discharged from the quarantine station,” he said.
He also said that this is where communication with LBJ Medical Center is very critical in the event a person needs to be transferred to the hospital. He said DoH and LBJ are working closely to have the transfer done safety and “have a good plan already set up.”
Phase Four is after the first repatriation, and quarantine is competed — DoH and all agencies, departments, involved then go through a reset for the next flight. And that includes “community surveillance and reset for the whole quarantine and continued monitoring of these travelers,” Dr. Tufa said.
“We want to make sure that we test everyone that is involved in the repatriation program... that they test negative and not expose them to the virus.”
Also important is for the quarantine sites to be cleaned up before the next flight and the necessary staff down time. So far, DoH is looking at its COVID-19 funds to cover such a flight.
Samoa News will report later this week on other issues covered in the DoH presentation.