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TAOA meal service will continue while encouraging ‘social distancing’

Food in a Styrofoam clamshell

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Given the fact that the Territorial Administration on Aging (TAOA) “carries the responsibility of ensuring” that the territory’s most vulnerable population — senior citizens — is safe and protected, it has been or will implement measures to ensure they are safe from the coronavirus.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has identified senior citizens as an “at risk” population for infection by the COVID-19 pandemic, which as of yesterday morning has confirmed cases in all 50 states as well as Washington D.C. and the territory of Guam.

“Older people are more likely to have serious COVID-19 illness. This may be because immune systems change with age, making it harder to fight off diseases and infection,” according to the CDC and other federal agencies. “Older adults also are more likely to have underlying health conditions that make it harder to cope with and recover from illness.”

As the virus becomes a global threat, concerns mount over the safety of the elderly population and the ASG appointed COVID-19 Task Force is tasked with among other things, to provide a response and action plan for our senior citizens.

“In response to the severity of health concerns raised by the COVID-19 virus and given the fact that TAOA carries the responsibility of ensuring the senior citizen population of American Samoa is provided with all information and protective measures available,” TAOA director Evelyn Lili’o-Satele wrote to task force chairman, Iulogologo Joseph Pereira of actions that the agency has or will be implementing by TAOA and staff.

Among them is that as of Monday this week, Mar. 16th the federally funded Senior Community Service Employment (SCSEP) job placement program is temporarily discontinued and all SCSEP participants placed in health facilities have been reassigned.

Since Tuesday this week, Mar. 17th, all meal service duties for the Congregate Meal program at the distribution centers will be carried out by TAOA staff and there are no plans at this time to discontinue the program. Further, meal program renewal requirement have been suspended for two months and this will not impact meal eligibility but will eliminate a required visit to the TAOA office.

During a meeting early this week at the TAOA center in Pago Pago, the TAOA director shared these latest developments with senior citizens, who were also informed that “you will no longer have to sign” the register for their meals at the meal centers as it will be done by TAOA staff on there.

She said all this deals with the importance of “social distancing” to help prevent the spread of the virus to the elderly population.  And if a senior citizen is unable to get to the meal centers to pick up their meal, exemption allows a family member to do it. “We want you to stay home, stay healthy,” Lili’o-Satele told the senior citizens during the meeting, which was aired on KVZK-TV.

She said the meal centers — where the meals are distributed - have already been made aware of these changes. (Samoa News notes that another TAOA official spoke in Samoan explaining the new measures.)

Health Department officials were also present at the meeting where they made their presentation regarding the virus including proper hygiene. Brochures were also distributed.

In her letter to Iulogologo, the TAOA director explained that in partnership with the Department of Youth and Women’s Affairs, seniors will sew their own reusable protective masks. “While it is understood that masks may not prevent the virus, it is believed that masks will serve as a deterrent to the common practice of touching one’s face,” she points out.

Other actions taken by TAOA:

•    janitorial responsibilities have been upgraded to include frequent wipe-downs and thorough disinfecting of common areas

•    all employees who show signs of illness/ fever are being sent home or told to stay home

•    congregation amongst staff is discouraged; distancing is encouraged.

“We take our unique responsibilities to [our] senior citizens... very seriously and welcome any additional COVID-19 preventive measures that may be recommended regarding their vulnerability in such times,” Lili’o-Satele wrote.

TAOA also continues to monitor CDC and the federal Administration for Community Living websites for “additional announcements to ensure our seniors receive sufficient information regarding their health and well-being,” she added.

Her letter is included in American Samoa’s response and action plan, which was prepared and complied by the task force, submitted by the governor last Friday to the federal government. ‘See yesterday’s edition for details.)

The plan summaries the response and action to be taken by the government to assist senior citizens, if the governor declares a COVID-19 pandemic in American Samoa.