Polynesian Leaders Group meeting cancelled, Flag Day scaled back as Gov appoints coronavirus task force
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — An ASG task force has been appointed by the governor to provide a plan for preparation and response by American Samoa to the deadly global coronavirus, which has prompted Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga to cancel the upcoming Polynesian Leaders Group meeting and scale back activities for the 2020 Flag Day ceremony.
The governor appointed over the weekend the new task force, which is chaired by the directors of Education and Port Administration. While there’s no official memo issued, Samoa News understands that this group is tasked with compiling a government plan of preparedness and responses to a local coronavirus outbreak.
The task force is also to look at the cost of what’s involved with preparation and responses, including the status of medical professionals — doctors and nurses. The plan will incorporate plans from the Department of Health and LBJ Medical Center.
Lolo publicly revealed the establishment of the task force during Wednesday’s cabinet meeting saying that the coronavirus, is a serious global threat and the main question for American Samoa is what will happen when there is one confirmed case locally. He stressed that the priority for the local government is the protection of health and safety of residents.
He explained briefly the role of the task force and the plan its to prepare and steps taken when there is a confirm case in the territory. He points out that the government has already identified a facility for isolation of patients, and that is the Leone Health Center, the new units currently being build behind the Tafuna Community Health Center, and the Veterans Affairs Center at Tafuna.
Also important as part of preparation is whether American Samoa has sufficient medical personnel. Lolo said he has checked with the Health Department on medical staff and was told that DoH has 12 or 14 doctors and just over 20 nurses. Lolo is concerned if the effectiveness of local response if all these doctors become infected with the virus.
He said if the government needs to hire more doctors, that should be done as well and included in the task force’s plan.
Another issue of concern to the governor and local health officials is getting suspected cases tested because the US Center for Diseases Control and Protection (CDC) is the only federal agency that handles testing for the coronavirus.
And that testing is done at the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia but Lolo said that’s too far away for American Samoa to get a fast turn around on results.
As previously reported by Samoa News, the CDC had sent test kits of the coronavirus to the Hawaii state laboratory, which was willing to assist with testing of samples from American Samoa and other US Pacific territories.
However, those test kits turned out to be defective and the state of Hawai’i has requested new kits which are expected sometime next week.
At the cabinet meeting, Lolo said he has directed his executive assistant, Iulogologo Joseph Pereira and ASG consultant Muliufi Hannemann to meet with hospitals in Hawaii to ascertain if they could assist with testing of samples from American Samoa.
Responding to inquiries, Iulogologo said from Honolulu yesterday that he and Hannemann reached out to Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who is taking the state’s lead on health responses to the coronavirus and the measles.
Green, who is a medical doctor by profession, informed the ASG officials that Hawaii is facing the same problem in getting a test for Coronavirus in Hawaii, which also has to send any sample to CDC in Atlanta for testing. Green noted that the test kits that CDC sent to Hawaii were damaged and therefore not effective.
“We have asked to be a beta-test site for the test as soon as they give it out, which we are hearing may be in the next two weeks,” Green said in an email to Iulogolo and Hannemann.
Green also notes that Hawaii state health director Bruce Anderson has said he would like to offer the use of the Hawaii state lab “for our friends throughout the Pacific.”
“My opinion is also that if the delay persists [from CDC], we will need to ask Japan to share their testing capacity with us,” Green informed the two ASG officials.
With serious concerns over the coronavirus threat, the governor told cabinet members that the Pacific Leaders Group summit scheduled for Apr. 14-16 in American Samoa is now cancelled.
For the annual Flag Day celebration, for Apr. 17th, celebration activities will be scaled back. He said there will still be a flag raising ceremony but other activities such as siva and pese and fautasi race and other large gathering are cancelled.