“WE SHOULD BE GRATEFUL WE ARE COMING HOME…” — A carelessly repeated remark!
We are American Samoa residents, who want to come home, but are not able to. Not without a lot of careful planning because the local government has closed our home borders citing safety concerns over the COVID pandemic.
We know it is being worked out and as our leaders have noted, we are all learning from each repatriation flight what is ‘best’ for all — the returning residents and the community residents.
It should be reiterated however, the fact is: we, who are awaiting repatriation, are essentially homeless and our plight needs to be handled with compassion, consistency, and transparency — NOT WITH THROW-A-WAY HURTFUL REMARKS FROM PEOPLE WHO HAVE NEVER WALKED IN THE SHOES OF FINANCIAL & MENTAL STRESS, LIKE WE ARE EXPERIENCING, DUE TO BEING APART FROM FAMILIES AND LOVED ONES FOR A YEAR OR MORE, THROUGH NO FAULT OF OURS.
Some of us have lost our jobs, while some of us can only hope that the kindness of others by the grace of God’s blessings, will continue to light our journey home.
WE ARE NOT ASKING FOR A FAVOR TO RETURN HOME; WE ARE ONLY ASKING THAT OUR RIGHT AS RESIDENTS OF AMERICAN SAMOA BE MET, WITH HONESTY AND UNDERSTANDING!
I realize there will probably be repercussions, due to sharing my story but innocent people are greatly affected by the decisions of gatekeepers, who are not quite sure what they’re doing is right — only that they are in charge.
On Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, I was contacted by the DOH staff in Honolulu, with the good news that I was on the second Repatriation flight. I was ecstatic... my poor Mom refuses to leave island for her medical checkups until I get home!
But sadly, right the next day, Dr. Adip (the medical doctor spearheading the second flight) calls to inform me that my name has been moved to the third repatriation flight due to a DOH requirement — which I was not aware of, nor was I informed of by DOH.
DOH had called me for the first flight on Jan 21st, a few days after my COVID experience. I chose not to hide the facts and told the DOH staff member who called, WHY I was opting out of the first flight. DOH NEVER EXPLAINED TO ME THEIR REQUIREMENTS/ RULES ABOUT THOSE RECOVERING FROM COVID!
This requirement, which disqualified me for repatriation on the second flight, was not enforced during the first repatriation flight, but as one of the DOH staff told our repatriation residents waiting for a flight, “New Doctor, New Rules”.
This requirement dictates anyone who has recovered from COVID-19, to submit (immediately after recovery) to the DOH Honolulu office, two (2) Negative COVID-19 test results. And that person may not return to American Samoa until after 28 days from the date of the second Negative Covid-19 test result.
Because I did not submit these two test results right after I recovered, never mind it is now more than 30 days since I have recovered and am COVID Free, I am disqualified from being on the second flight.
But the question that goes around and around in my mind since Dr. Adip’s fateful phone call, was, WHY DID DOH NOT MAKE THIS DECISION (TO REMOVE ME FROM THE 2ND FLIGHT) BEFORE CALLING ME? Can you imagine the euphoria of realizing that you’re finally going home, only to be told 24 hours later, that you can’t?
I don’t believe our American Samoa Task Force or DOH fully grasp the extent of mental health issues our stranded residents are dealing with and lack the compassion and understanding to deal with people who have “gone through the wringer”.
There are still a lot of unresolved issues that I believe the American Samoa Task Force and DOH need to iron out regarding Repatriation, because it affects and adds undue burdens (physically and mentally) to our stranded residents.
In picking who will be on each flight, Governor Lemanu Peleti Mauga, in a January memo stated that ASG will be going by the longest stranded… But that is not the case. As witnessed by the many Facebook posts, people who have been stranded for over a year, are confused as to how those who have only been in the States for less than 6 months, have been picked for the first and second flights.
Those who have been blessed to be on the second Repat flight, only had one week to prepare and were told they will be sent an email detailing all the instructions to follow. These emails were not received for some, until two days before quarantine day.
Then there is a couple, who traveled from the Mainland, because they were called for the second flight – only to be told in Honolulu, their names are not on the list and were turned away.
Since Repatriation has been on the table with Governor Lemanu and the new COVID Task Force, the stranded residents have been made to jump through hoops, in order to be considered for Repatriation.
Starting from the confusing applications on the DOH website versus the AG website, to the suspicious delayed Announcement from DOH alerting the stranded residents that their website was finally accepting applications.
And even after the first successful repatriation flight, the confusion continues.
One of the DOH requirements for repatriation is having a US doctor sign a Medical Form, which sounds simple right? It is not.
If you do not have insurance, you must pay between $60 to $250 to have a stateside doctor sign this form — an added financial burden to those who have been without work for more than a year.
Other stranded residents reported that their doctors refused to sign these medical forms, so they must find a doctor who will sign it.
Yet, for the first repatriation flight, these forms were not used. These forms that money, time and energy went into, were not collected. Instead, DOH filled out new forms at the quarantine site in Honolulu for the returning residents, right before the flight to American Samoa.
No explanation has been given (to date) whether these health forms are still required for quarantine in Honolulu or if DOH will do the same as was done in the first repatriation. In the meanwhile, stranded residents, including those that are now quarantined in Honolulu for the second flight, are continuing to spend money and time trying to have these medical forms signed.
With all the strict requirements put forth for our stranded residents to follow and if someone dares to question the process, they are told “to be grateful they’re going home”.
A very wise person once shared, “Our stranded people are made to feel like Homeless People. Governments and people make homeless people feel like they’re the problem, but really, they are the RESULT OF THE PROBLEM. Our stranded residents are not the problem. We are in this mess because it is a result of poor planning and coordination, misuse of funds and more.”
I had emailed Director Motusa about my grievances, what I believe, is unfair disqualification from the second flight, but I guess, due to his busy schedule, my case was handed to Deputy Director Farrah Utu, who called me, and told me, and I quote “You are right” and “I will call you back”, but still no call back, to-date. Typical ASG?
I guess I expected too much from DOH, when I waited for a reply to my email or a call back, with an explanation as to why they feel so strongly about Negative test results 40 DAYS before the flight home, that they would disqualify someone from repatriation flights… when stranded residents are expected to yield Negative test results 72 hours before heading to Honolulu, and another Negative test result 72 hours before boarding for American Samoa.
Or an explanation as to why I am being penalized for their inconsistency and internal politics.
American Samoa is built on Faith, Love and Respect. I pray our DOH and Task Force leadership will allow their Faith, Love and Respect for their stranded residents to guide them in all their medical decisions, and allow every stranded resident their right to return to their homes.
Soifua ma ia manuia,