Health Dept. reveals little about staffer who tested positive for COVID
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Health Department officials explained that the positive COVID-19 spread into the community started from a Health Department employee assigned to one of the quarantine sites and this individual infected seven family members.
DoH revealed this during yesterday morning’s department Zoom news conference, which followed the governor’s declaration Monday night of the community spread of the deadly virus and American Samoa now under Code Red threat level.
Information received by Samoa News indicates that the DoH quarantine staffer was assigned to the Tradewinds Hotel and from Leone village. During the news conference, DoH didn’t reveal at this time any other information about the staffer or the individual’s village and location.
DoH’s medical team did say that some 270-plus travelers who arrived Feb. 17 on the Hawaiian Airlines flight from Honolulu are quarantined at three locations — Tradewinds, Fatuoaiga and Sadie’s by the Sea.
And after the first COVID-19 test on Monday morning, a traveler quarantined at Fatuoaiga was positive for the virus, while all of the other travelers were negative. The traveler who tested positive was immediately transferred to isolation.
In addition to the travelers, quarantine staff was also tested, and one of the staff members at Tradewinds tested positive.
DoH looked at the staffer and found that no one else tested positive at Tradewinds and started its investigation and contact tracing in an effort to determine where the staffer was exposed to the virus.
The territory’s lead Epidemiologist Dr. Aifili John Tufa of DoH, explained that this particular staffer had worked the Jan. 27 flight from Honolulu and this individual along with other quarantine staffers were removed after a traveler — on the Jan. 27 flight tested positive. One of the quarantine staff, at the time was exposed to the positive tested traveler.
The staffers from this Jan. 27 flight were released on Feb. 15.
Dr. Tufa said DoH conducted further investigation and sent a team to the staffer’s home to find out more, as to how and where the individual was exposed to the virus.
And it learned that of the staffer’s 8-family members — seven of them tested positive.
“Further investigation also revealed that these family members did engage in several activities out in the community — such as a funeral, church service and school functions.”
And this resulted in DoH recommending late Monday afternoon to elevate to Code Red, with a community spread, he said, adding that DoH is also looking to set up COVID-19 test sites — one each on the East side, Central and West — for anyone who wants to get tested, who has symptoms, and believes they have been exposed.
He and other DoH officials also urged those who are not yet fully vaccinated to do so at this time and those who have been fully vaccinated to get their booster shot for further protection.
For more information on the COVID-19 test sites as well as locations of this week’s vaccination sites, call DoH command post at 219.
One of the media questions — based on public queries — was the specific village of the staffer and family; their church location, and the public event the family attended.
DoH officials responded that they would provide this later, as their investigation is still ongoing.
A follow-up media question — and also a lot of people in the community are asking about it — did DoH miss anything when the quarantine staffer — who worked the Jan. 27 flight — was put in isolation along with other staffers.
Dr. Tufa responded that the staff members who worked the Jan. 27 flight were in isolation for about 11-days and were tested with results all negative. He believes that the tests were administered every other day, and “again” all came back negative.
“However, we believe that somehow the incubation period [of the virus] was most likely longer than we had anticipated. And when this individual had gone out to the public — it’s more than likely the viral load then reached a certain point where [the individual became] infectious,” he explained.
“According to what we’ve done, we’ve followed every single protocol that we have put in place,” he said.
Dr. Fred Uhrle, director of the local VA Clinic and COVID-19 Task Force member, told the news conference that it’s “really important that there’s more transparency provided to the public and that we identify the village and area where people may have been in contact with the positive individuals.”
“Otherwise you’re going to have panic and everyone wants to rush in for testing when it’s really not necessary,” he said.
Responding to Dr. Uhrle’s statement, Dr. Tufa noted that the investigation is still ongoing and DoH will release the information once everything is gathered.
Dr. Tufa reminded the public that all of this — including deliberation by the medical community — happened very late Monday afternoon.
“We want to make sure that everything is solid before revealing it. And also we want to make sure that when we are revealing this information we are following all the laws,” he said and pointed out there is also privacy of individuals to be protected.
Rep. Andra Samoa, a member of the COVID-19 Task Force, who attended the news conference said the family members who tested positive are her constituents from Leone, and the church the family is involved with is located in Nu’uuli.
She recalled that last Friday was a Leone High School function, also attended by the family in question and those who were in attendance at that event included the governor and the House Speaker as well as many others.
She emphasized the importance of contact-tracing in these cases and urged the public not to panic.
Lt. Gov. Talauega Eleasalo V. Ale, who attended the news conference, asked the public for their patience.
“I know a lot of you want to get to the bottom of who this person is, where the staffer is from, what village and church. In time all of this information will be provided,” he said.