Guamanians share thoughts on coronavirus threat

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HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — With confirmed cases of COVID-19 — the disease caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus — on the rise worldwide, island residents shared concerns Friday on the possible impact for Guam.

“Guam is a small island, it could go around fast,” said Dededo resident Rose Alviz, 28.

Currently, Guam doesn’t have any confirmed cases and government officials have held multiple briefings in past weeks to strategize and provide updated information to the public.

Non-U.S. citizens who have recently visited China are now banned from entering Guam or any part of the United States, and Americans who visited the province in China considered the epicenter for the outbreak are being quarantined for 14 days upon reentry.

On Saturday, a passenger from the cruise ship MS Westerdam, which was denied entry into Guam, tested positive for COVID-19 after flying into Malaysia from Cambodia, Reuters reported.

One-time testing not enough

A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention press briefing on Friday shared the information that testing a passenger once isn’t going to be enough.

A person exposed to the virus might not show symptoms right away, according to the CDC, which added, “testing on day one or two or three might produce a negative result.”

“However, it could mean the virus hasn’t established itself sufficiently in the system to be detected by test.... So if a person tests negative once, it’s not clear that it’s a true negative. The test doesn’t inform public health actions or clinical care. In fact ... negative test results could provide a false sense of security. With the incubation period being up to 14 days, one test at a given point in time only tells you if someone is infected at that one moment,” CDC stated.

Residents on Guam are worried.

Alviz said she would still like to see more being done at the local level.

“I don’t think GovGuam is doing enough,” she said. “Because there are people coming here from different places and if there is coronavirus where they come, when they come back (to Guam,) how sure are we that they are clean?”

Tom Ada, executive manager of the A.B. Won Pat Guam International Airport Authority, has said airlines are conducting their own screenings at the origin ports of their departures. Guam Customs Director Ike Peredo has said Customs is reviewing the manifests of all flights coming to the island and has partnered with federal authorities to identify high-risk passengers.

The Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services recommends that the most up-to-date and accurate information on COVID-19 can be found at the CDC website at CDC.gov

Jose San Miguel, 19, of Mangilao, works at the airport but said he is only “a little bit” concerned.

“Not too concerned with it. A lot of viruses do come here,” he said.

Although he did say reducing flights to Guam could be a needed precaution.

“Who knows, someone might bring it. If it spreads, then there is nothing much we can do,” he said.

San Miguel said he has noticed fewer passengers coming, and is also concerned about the effect on the local tourism industry, “because Guam really depends on it.”

The Guam Visitors Bureau has stated more than 14,000 visitors have canceled their flights to Guam since the outbreak began.

Nady Estrellado, 73, of Dededo, is taking solace that no cases of infection have been reported on Guam.

She isn’t worried that she or her family may become infected.

“No, I’m not, because it’s not here. So, we don’t have to worry about that,” she said.

The Department of Public Health and Social Services continues to stress good hygiene. Washing hands, avoiding touching one’s eyes and mouth and staying home if you are sick are all measures GovGuam has recommended.

Estrellado said she is also keeping abreast of recommendations on how to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Katelyn Naler, 21, lives on base and said she is concerned about the virus.

“There is no cure for it now, so people are dying of it. I wish they would move a little faster with the process of finding a vaccination, but I’m sure they are moving as fast as they can,” she said.

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands blocked travelers from China even before the United States ban was put into place. The islands, which let visitors from China enter without a visa, had welcomed hundreds of Chinese visitors per day before the ban.

Saipan-based physician Mark Dwinell, who works at the island’s only hospital, said, “My main concern was really people being screened properly at the airport. Because once they are in, they can be a danger to the community,” he said.

He said he was asked if he had been to China when he arrived on Guam from Saipan on Friday morning.

“I would like to have a better screening process. You don’t want to infringe on people’s rights, but, on the other hand, you have to be careful,” he said.

Dwinell said measures are in place for the CNMI to deal with any case of COVID-19.

“If we have a case we feel might meet the criteria for coronavirus, we have some pretty good plans in place to keep them quarantined and make sure they are safe and make sure other people are safe. We have rooms at the hospital specifically to quarantine patients,” he said.

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