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Public concerns raised over DPS limiting number at retail outlets

Neil's Ace Home Center sign

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — An incident this week where a police officer allegedly told Neil’s ACE Home Center that only 10 customers are allowed in their retail outlet at any given time has quickly raised concerns from others in the private sector, as the incident made its way to social media, which elicited criticism of the Department of Public Safety.

The incident was also raised by American Samoa Chamber of Commerce chairperson Ella Gurr in an email letter Wednesday to ASG’s COVID-19 Task Force chairman, Iulogologo Joseph Pereira, urging “some form of communication in place for our businesses and ASG” during the COVID-19 emergency declaration.

Gurr informed Iulogologo that the Chamber was notified Wednesday afternoon by “one of our valued members,” Neil’s ACE, that a police officer showed up to their place of business to notify them that beginning Thursday, yesterday, only 10 customers would be allowed at any given time in their store.

“The officer had no paperwork to support the demand but said they would be enforcing the 10 person restriction,” Gurr wrote. “We can only suspect that there is clearly a miscommunication on the officer’s part, however if not this is harassment.”

She also says that this isn't the first incident where a police officer has shown up to a place of business to enforce COVID-19 restrictions.

While Gurr didn’t elaborate on other incidents, Samoa News understands that Cost-U-Less also encountered a similar incident recently.

The governor’s COVID-19 declaration provision restricts business operation hours from 6a.m. to 6p.m. While bars and restaurants are required to have fewer than 10 customers inside at any given time, restaurants can open until 10p.m for take-out and drive-through orders.

Many local businesses have already implemented their own internal policies to ensure compliance with the governor’s declaration, especially with social distancing, while others have limited the number of customers inside their establishments at any given time.

“While the Public Safety officers might be overzealous in carrying out the enforcement of the dictates of the Emergency Declaration, we are all trying to find the best medium to ensure that our people get the message that the COVID-19 is a deadly disease and the most effective way to stop the spread is through social distancing,” wrote Iulogologo in an email letter in response to Gurr’s inquiry about the Neil’s ACE incident.

He said that the governor is sensitive and mindful to the need for businesses to minimize losses by allowing businesses to open for 12 hours a day, and the business owners must take responsibility to make sure that the protocols, advisories and guidance are followed.

“If the businesses will not attempt to practice social distancing by self-compliance with these dictates, the Law Enforcement Personnel will intervene,” he points out. “The more people congregate the higher our level of risk. At this time, the Governor's objective to save lives takes priority over economic sustainability.”

Iulogologo encouraged businesses to police movement within their establishments.

“The number of deaths in the US is rapidly rising. We should take heed of this danger and do the necessity to prevent this from happening to us,” he said. “Life as we know it has dramatically changed and thus our behavior must change accordingly if we want to live.”

Since the governor’s declaration, Neil’s Ace has encouraged and urged everyone to practice social distance. “We've marked where to stand while waiting in line, where to stand when being served by a cashier,” according to the retailer’s public notice — also posted on its Facebook page.

“Send one family member to shop for your household, leave young ones and the elderly at home. We've been given advice on how to stop the spread of COVID-19 and we need to be more diligent about following it. PLEASE stay at home if you're sick,” it says.

See Monday’s edition on Iulogologo’s response to other questions raised by Gurr.