Update: Latest American Samoa travel advisory — 14 day stay in Hawaii lifted after revision
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Under a new revised Heath Department (DOH travel advisory - dated yesterday - all passengers from and transiting through US states with confirmed coronavirus, or COVID-19, cases will not be required to stay in Hawai’i for 14-days before entering the territory.
The new revised advisory was first verbally announced by Lt. Gov. Lemanu Palepoi Sialega Mauga and Health director Motusa Tuileama Nua during a COVID-19 briefing for cabinet members and other officials late Sunday afternoon.
Motusa said the new revised advisory also lifts the measles outbreak in the territory with the last laboratory confirmed case seen at LBJ Medical Center on Jan. 27th.
The official written revised advisory dated Mar. 9th and effective immediately “due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus” was signed by Motusa and released Sunday night. The revised advisory also lifts the original plan to reduce daily flights on the inter Samoa route.
Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga, who is currently in Hawai’i after a medical check-up on the mainland, called into the cabinet briefing, and agreed with the revised travel advisory, and suggested that a message be sent out to all local residents currently in the US to prepare to return home before the situation gets worse in the US.
The same message, he said, should also be relayed to American Samoans, currently visiting Samoa.
“All residents traveling abroad are advised to return to American Samoa,” according to the revised advised, which reiterates DoH’s earlier recommendation for all persons intending to travel to any US state and foreign country affected by the virus to postpone their travel unless necessary.
Lemanu reminded cabinet members at Sunday’s briefing that all ASG travel is suspended, until further notice. He encouraged ASG officials who usually attend meetings off island to utilize video-teleconference at this point.
FLIGHTS FROM HAWAII
The revised advisory was first discussed during a separate meeting on Saturday that health and LBJ Medical Center officials attended as well as other cabinet members to discuss the coronavirus. Lemanu, who is also the current acting governor, led the meeting where recommendations where made, and all such issues were shared with the governor at the time.
During Sunday’s briefing, Lemanu said that one concern raised during the Saturday morning meeting deals with the requirement that all travelers from and transitioning through US states affected by the virus must stay in Hawaii for 14-days.
He said one of the issues discussed is how such a requirement will be enforced especially when US travelers do not use passports to travel inter-state. There is also the issue of a securing a physician in Hawaii to conduct the 3-day health clearance.
Motusa said the required 14-days in Hawaii has “caused some hard pain throughout the territory and also our families in the United States.” So during the meeting on Saturday, it was recommended to drop this requirement for those from US states affected with the virus, he said.
Dropping the 14-days in Hawaii and the health clearance means that “American Samoa will have to beef up its surveillance” at its borders” and “that’s something that we will need the help of the cabinet and [our] partners,” he said, nothing that DoH screening will be beefed up at the airport and seaport.
He said the question now is, “when” will American Samoa get its first case, with dropping of the restriction on travelers from affected US states. “Heath Department will beef up surveillance” at local borders called for “for LBJ to be prepared , as soon as there’s a case, it will be transfered to LBJ,” he said.
Dr. Fred Urhle of the federal Veterans Affairs clinic in Tafuna, who attended the briefing, points out that efforts were made in other US states to contain the spread of the virus, and they were trying to contain and keep people coming in from China, and yet, these states still ended up getting a confirmed case.
“Containing people and keeping them in Hawaii for 14-days makes no sense. Many of the people that are infected have no symptoms. Someone who gets exposed to the virus will have the virus in them and start giving it to someone else, within 4 to 5 days of that initial exposure. They will not have symptoms for anywhere from that point until two weeks later,” he explained.
“We’re not going to keep the virus from coming here. We need to be prepared, we need to do what we can [such as] screening them before they get on the plane,” he said, adding that keeping them in Hawaii “is not going to help.”
Motusa said one of the recommendations made during the Saturday meeting came from Dr. Urhle, who suggested having a physician at the Honolulu airport to conduct health screening, using a the thermometer, to check the traveler before boarding the flight, if the passenger appears to have a fever.
He said one of the challenges for DoH is identifying a physician in Hawaii to conduct not only the three-day health clearance but also to be at the Honolulu terminal to check passengers.
Commerce director, Keniseli Lafaele said he knows of physician in Hawaii that can help American Samoa. Lemanu responded that ASG will take up that offer after further discussions.
According to the new revised DoH advisory, and in accordance with US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, US passport holders and returning residents traveling from and transiting through any of the US states with virus, will be subject to all public health screening procedures and may be medically quarantined or home quarantined.
All those who are home quarantined are restricted from leaving their homes until cleared by a public health physician.
Additionally, all travelers - including American Samoa residents - traveling from and transiting through foreign countries with the virus will be required to: spend 14-days in Hawaii; acquire a health clearance 3-days before entry; complete DoH travel declaration form; and provide itinerary upon arriving in the territory.
The revised advisory lists 14 states including Hawaii, Washington state and California, where Motusa said has a large Samoan population.
INTER SAMOA FLIGHTS
The revised advisory removes the original restriction, which calls for two-daily flights per airline - Samoa Airways and Talofa Airways - to American Samoa. This means, the airlines will continue with their original schedule of daily flights.
However, all charter flights will be denied entry until further notice and all flights between American Samoa and Tonga are suspended until further notice.
All other travel restrictions for travel from American Samoa to Samoa and beyond Samoa to other countries - remain in effect. Also remaining in effect are requirements to enter Samoa. (See Samoa News edition last Friday for details.)
For seaport travel requirements, they remain in effect including that cruise ships will be denied entry until further notice.
Additionally, all entry permits remain suspended until further notice, except for returning residents with valid Immigration IDs or Immigration Board approval.
Call the measles/COVID-19 hotline 633-5871/5872 for any questions and updates.