Governor says policy must be developed to combat spread of Coronavirus locally
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — With a spike in the number of confirmed “coronavirus” cases around the world, including neighboring Australia, and rising “concerns” globally, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has directed certain government agencies to “develop appropriate policy” to combat the spread of the virus to the territory.
Lolo gave the verbal directive during the measles update briefing for cabinet members late Sunday afternoon, where the Health Department touched on the new deadly virus — the 2019 Novel Corona Virus — which was first discovered last month in Wuhan, China.
As of yesterday morning, The Associated Press reported 81 deaths in China with more than 2,000 confirmed cases; while there are about 40 cases reported from 13 countries, which include five in the U.S. (2 in California and 1 each in Washington State, Chicago, and Arizona) and Australia.
It is described as a “respiratory illness” caused by a novel new coronavirus.
Lolo said there are “concerns” around the world regarding this new virus and American Samoa needs to focus its attention — like other world countries — on this virus. He called it a “big challenge” for American Samoa, which joins others globally with their “concerns” in the rapid spread.
DoH’s Dr. Saipale Fuimaono gave the briefing on the coronavirus, which currently has no treatment and no vaccine for prevention. He shared that symptoms include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath.
He said DoH is working on distribution of a brochure with information about the virus, including preventive measures such as handwashing, masking, and quarantine. Dr. Fuimaono also identified countries with cases of the virus that he says are in close proximity to American Samoa - and that is a concern.
DoH is working closely with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on this new virus, as well as monitoring the situation in neighboring countries.
Director of Health, Motusa Tuileama Nua explained that DoH held a conference call late last week with the Samoa Ministry of Health which provided new travel requirements for entry into Samoa due to the corona virus. He said the new requirement is effective Jan. 30th in American Samoa — which is Jan. 31st in Samoa.
Lolo interjected before Motusa could finish his explanation — that Samoa’s requirements call for a 3-day health clearance before entering the independent state and health exams are done by DoH at its Tafuna Community Health Center. (See Samoa News Jan. 24th edition for details on Samoa’s entry requirements.)
Lolo directed Motusa, along with LBJ chief executive officer, Faumuina John Faumuina, the Immigration Office, and the Attorney General’s Office to meet early this week to “develop proper policy” to address the new virus. He said DoH’s health policy must be tied to Immigration, as well as the AG's Office when it comes to travelers.
"We should start looking at possible screening" of passengers at the airport for "possible cases" of this new virus, the governor said, adding that "if you look at this issue" travelers from Australia and other countries where the virus is confirmed should no longer be allowed to enter American Samoa via Samoa.
“Either they travel through the U.S. — where there is accurate and sufficient resources for screening — and then enter the territory,” Lolo said.
He added that ASG is not going to "rush" on this important issue until American Samoa "develops a policy" and approves it before it’s distributed to the public. The policy will come with a separate declaration before moving forward to ensure safety and border protection from the virus.
Lolo said the business community should pay close attention to countries with the virus. He suggested that if the private sector is looking at recruiting people from the affected countries, especially from China and other Asian countries, that they find a travel route through a country that can “properly screen and clear” them before entering American Samoa.
He again suggested routing them through the US, so "we will know for sure that the travelers are properly screened.” Lolo said he doesn't believe that neighboring countries such as Samoa has sufficient and effective resources to properly screen travelers from affected countries before they enter American Samoa.
Personnel from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are conducting monitoring and screening at certain US airports for flights from China, since more than a week ago.
“While the immediate risk of this new virus to the American public is believed to be low at this time, everyone can do their part to help us respond to this emergency public health threat,” said CDC, which recommends for everyone:
• It’s currently flu and respiratory disease season and CDC recommends getting vaccinated, taking everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs, and taking flu antiviral if prescribed.
The CDC website — www.cdc.gov — has updated information, recommendations and details on the coronavirus.
Samoa News over the weekend saw posts on Facebook pages that had gone viral among the Samoan communities, here and abroad, that “…It has been CONFIRMED” that they (allegedly 2 Samoa sailors) are infected with the coronavirus and are being held in Faleolo Hospital for 14 days as a precaution.
However, the Samoa Ministry of Health told Samoa News Sunday evening that “we are still waiting for tests… faatoa quarantine yesterday ” and there is a two-week turn-around period for lab tests sent to Australia. In other words — there are NO CONFIRMED cases in Samoa right now.