Update on COVID-19 preparedness — Sen. Logoai voices concerns
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — During a Senate hearing with the Chairman of the Coronavirus Task Force Iulogologo Joseph Pereira last Friday, Senator Logooai Siaki was adamant that the repatriation flights from Samoa should only bring US citizens and US nationals and not anyone else, even permanent residents.
The hearing was called to discuss whether the government is ready if the virus arrives on our shores. The hearing was led by Senator Satele Galu Satele, the chairman of the Senate Health/LBJ committee. And, one of the many issues discussed during the hearing was the repatriation flights from Samoa which bring local residents stranded in Samoa.
Logoai told Iulogologo that the report he heard was that these repatriation flights are bringing other people from Samoa who are not residents. He said the government should not worry about non locals from Samoa when it’s not taking care of its citizens who are stranded in Hawaii.
“If a person is a local resident but from Upolu, don’t bring that person back to the territory, let that person stay in Upolu. Why should our government worry so much about people from Samoa who are residents in this territory while our own people who are stranded in Hawaii and the government doesn’t bother to bring them back home,” Logoai said.
Iulogologo told the Senate that nothing like that happened and only people with valid immigration IDs are being brought into the territory. He said that the only time a person from Samoa is brought into the territory is if that person has a special skill that is really needed by the government or businesses.
Iulogologo further stated that the difference is that Samoa does not have any coronavirus cases where as Hawaii’s COVID-19 cases are rising.
Logoai is also against bringing in special skilled and technical workers from Samoa. He said if there are not enough workers, stop the projects.
“The government and the economy will not be affected if we don’t bring in special skilled workers to do the work, but once someone is tested positive with the virus, then things will get worse. Those legal residents from Samoa are not important to me. Our own people are more important,” Logoai told Iulogologo.
Iulogologo acknowledged at the Senate hearing that the hospital does not have enough doctors and nurses, facilities and supplies to handle any confirmed cases of coronavirus in the territory.
Iulogologo is also the Chairman of LBJ Hospital Authority Board.
He said there’s a worldwide shortage of doctors and nurses and while the LBJ Hospital and Department of Health are trying to get more medical personnel, the only sure way to prevent deaths from coronavirus is to stop the entry of people from countries that have COVID-19 cases,
Iulogologo elaborated on the preparations by the LBJ Hospital and the DoH thus far to respond to any coronavirus cases, all of which have been reported on in earlier issues of Samoa News.
He also discussed the Medicaid charter flight set for July 31st.
Senator Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga Nua who had pressed for the hearing with the Task Force said it was clear that despite all the good efforts by the government, “we are not adequately prepared for one case.”
He and several senators including Chairman Satele said even the US and other developed countries with all their medical expertise and resources are overwhelmed dealing with coronavirus.
Senator Satele was also not happy that people from the territory would be traveling to Hawaii and the mainland where thousands are dying from the disease.
Iulogoloogo said the Medicaid charter flight is arriving at 9 p.m this Tuesday and will depart at 11 p.m. The departure is timed to coincide with connecting flights to the mainland.
There are 165 Medicaid patients on the flight.
Iulogologo didn’t give a total number of passengers but said that non Medicaid patients have to pay their own air fares.
Senator Tuaolo M Fruean wanted to know whether it’s true that the government hasn’t payed overtime for all ASG employees working for the COVID-19. Iulogologo told the committee that the report is not true. The government is paying overtime for the COVID-19.
When asked about how many people who had been tested so for in American Samoa, Iulogologo said more than 1,000 people had already been tested for Coronavirus. As a result of all those tested, no one tested positive.
He further stated to the committee that the government has received over 6,000 coronavirus test kits. Half of these kits are used for testing while the other half have been put aside if American Samoa has a confirmed coronavirus case. Those who have already been tested are front line workers and the first responders. The next group that needs to be tested are people at moderate risk (clinically vulnerable).
When asked about the government’s preparation if the virus arrives on our shore, Iulogologo stated that one of the buildings at the LBJ Medical Hospital with 8 rooms has already been set aside for treatment of coronavirus patients.
If it arises that the number of confirmed cases exceeds that, one of the units at the LBJ would be converted for coronavirus treatment. TheTask Force has assigned the Tafuna Health Center to be an area for treatment for patients if needed. (Samoa News understands that this would be for non-coronavirus patients.)
COVID-19 related funding awarded for American Samoa to date is $155 million and Iulogologo said a report on the spending of the money would be submitted to the Fono.