Governor explores options as current emergency declaration set to expire
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has appointed a new committee to come up with recommendations for the next step to take when the current emergency declaration expires at the end of this month, while local medical personnel have recommended keeping borders closed until the end of June and extending hours for businesses to operate.
These were some of the issues that were discussed at Sunday’s meeting of the ASG COVID-19 Task Force at the Emergency Operations Center, where many were in attendance packed into EOC, including members of the new ASG coronavirus compliance committee, which was appointed last week. The meeting was aired around 11p.m. that night on KVZK-TV.
The governor said he has appointed a new committee to review all provisions of the current declaration and provide recommendation on the next steps to take once the current declaration lapses on June 1st.
Committee members are acting Attorney General Mitzie Jessop-Taase, task force chairman Iulogologo Joseph Pereira, Health director Motusa Tuileama Nua, LBJ Medical Center chief executive officer Faumuina John Faumuina, the Governor’s authorized representative Fiu J. Saelua, and Dr. Fred Uhrle of the local federal Veterans Affairs Clinic.
Lolo said this new committee has already been informed of issues to look at for consideration if changes need to be made to the declaration. The committee has also been informed to provide their recommendation when the task force meets this Sunday.
One of the issues the governor asked the new group to look at is local residents who are stranded off island since American Samoa borders were closed and this includes those stuck in Samoa. Additionally, the committee is to review the status of the virus in Hawaii and the US mainland.
The governor reiterated what he has said in previous meetings — that local decisions on the next step will not follow policies in the US but will be based on advise from local physicians and medical personnel — with the goal of protecting the lives of the people of American Samoa.
Lolo acknowledged complaints from businesses over restrictions placed on their hours of operations but he says that protecting the lives of local residents is of utmost importance.
The governor also said that anyone with suggestions or recommendations on the next course of action should be submitted to this new group for presentation at the next task force meeting.
As part of Health Department’s presentation at the meeting were recommendations which Health director Motusa Tuileama Nua said, were based on the latest meeting last week Thursday between medical personnel from DoH, LBJ and the federal VA Clinic.
Recommendations include extending border closure to June 30th and relaxing business operations hours. For public transportation, operating hours from 5a.m to 8p.m. and all other businesses from 6a.m. to 8p.m.
Currently business hour operations are 6a.m. to 6p.m while restaurants are allowed take-out and drive through until 10p.m.
Police Commissioner, Le’i Sonny Thompson suggested that the next declaration should specify or set the number of people allowed in stores, saying that it’s been very difficult for police to enforce current restrictions in large stores.
He says that when police tried to enforce social distancing in stores, they would end up getting into arguments with store owners or customers, who argued that there are no such restrictions of 10 people or less inside a store at one-time.
He points out that at the federal military store (PX) in Tafuna, the limitation inside the store is 10 or less at a time.
Le’i pointed to the Mother’s Day holiday where it was a busy shopping time and there were a lot of people inside large stores. He said Father’s Day is coming up next month and large crowds are expected to be out shopping.
He also said the public is now more aware and compliant with restrictions of family gatherings with up to 10 people at funerals and so forth.
LBJ chief medical officer Dr. Iotamo Saleapaga supports Le’i’s suggestion and recommends that the number of people allowed inside should depend on the size of the business operation.
The governor acknowledged Le’i’s suggestion and requested that this be submitted to the new committee for review.
Another recommendation shared by Motusa is that local officials are looking at May 26 - as a tentative date for a COVID-19 island wide drill if or when the threat level is elevated to Code Yellow/Code Red — to test the local health care system’s “capability and capacities”.
Another recommendation is for the government to consider local hotels as “standby” quarantine and alternative care facilities (ACF) in case of a surge in virus cases beyond current DoH capacity.
They also recommended a policy letter from the task force to require personal protective equipment (PPE) be worn by ground crews serving cargo and passenger carriers at the airport and seaport.