More COVID-19 tests must be available before American Samoa’s borders re-open
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has instructed the Health Department and LBJ Medical Center to look at identifying local funds to purchase more COVID-19 test kits while the DoH plans this week to start conducting community-base testing for medical personnel and first responders.
This was among the issues raised at Sunday’s government coronavirus task force meeting at the Emergency Operations Center, where the governor also directed DoH to set a “uniform” policy for all those who are required to undergo 14-day quarantine.
Among the issues addressed by DoH during the meeting is local testing capability with the use of two testing machines utilizing test-kits provided by the federal government. DoH epidemiologist Dr. Aifili John Tufa said that 350 more test-kits arrived on last Friday’s cargo flight with 50 of them from the World Health Organization.
As reported by Samoa News on Monday, Dr. Tufa had said last week that local health officials have identified 20% of the population for community-based virus testing with 25,000 test-kits being requested from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
At Sunday’s task force meeting, Dr. Tufa said “we will support” the community-based testing program, to first test “health care workers and first responders only, until such a time as we have enough tests on island to respond or be able to track down cases once we open up our borders.”
He said DoH is looking at testing first responders and health care workers this week, while awaiting more tests from the federals government that will be used for contact tracing, case investigation and testing of the community.
Lolo points out that the decision to re-open borders with Hawaii and Samoa all depends on the number of test-kits on island. He says DoH can’t wait around and depend on the federal government to provide test-kits while there are decisions that need to be made.
He directed Motusa along with LBJ chief executive officer Faumuina John Faumuina to look at the possibility of ASG purchasing test kits and finding money for the purchases. He said that during the local measles outbreak, ASG ended up purchasing immunization shots to carry out mass immunization that helped curb the spread.
He said “we can’t wait around” for federal assistant and find out when the borders are re-opened, there aren’t enough virus tests.
He stressed that “we can’t make major decisions on re-opening of our borders if American Samoa is not prepared to carry out testing” of arriving passengers.
The governor also instructed Motusa for DoH to come up with set “uniform” policies on who should or should not undergo 14-day quarantine at designated ASG facilities. The governor was responding to remarks made by local VA Clinic physician, Dr. Fred Uhrle who says that it’s important that if people are quarantined — once the borders are re-opened — that the 14-days is completed and we not succumb to the practice of people seeking to release their relatives who are quarantined, because their relatives don’t have symptoms of the virus.
He emphasized that quarantining is to protect the community and it’s not going be to of any use, if ASG officials seek to release their people or their relatives who are in quarantine without completing the full-14-days.
(Samoa News notes that what Dr. Uhrle stated is similar to allegations that surfaced two months ago before local borders were closed.)
Lolo said Dr. Uhrle raised a very important issue and the reason that happens is before DoH did not have a “uniform” policy on who should or should not be quarantined. He said DoH should set up a “uniform” policy — treating everyone equally when they are quarantined — when American Samoa’s border are re-opened at a future time.