Guam 'struggling to control' second surge

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HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero on Wednesday said Guam is "now struggling to control" the second surge in Covid-19 cases as it modified quarantine rules and began reopening the economy.

For his part, the chairman of her physicians advisory group said a possible third surge could be worse if people continue to "let their guard down."

"We need to remind each other that we are still in this pandemic," Dr. Hoa Nguyen told members of the Rotary Club of Northern Guam via Zoom.

The governor delivered a special address after more than a dozen business people and private sector workers held a peaceful rally and motorcade Wednesday morning, seeking the lifting of additional restrictions to help reopen the Guam economy.

"Our enemy is faceless and bipartisan," the governor said. "It doesn't care about our age, race or religion — it preys on the vulnerable, but it is more than capable of taking the strong."

Besides battling the virus and trying to keep the economy from total collapse, Guam is also in the midst of an election.

The governor said GovGuam has been using its resources to contain Covid-19, and called on the community to do its part by wearing masks, social distancing and staying home.

She said the government can do many things "but the fight against Covid-19 will be won or lost by the decisions we make as individuals."

"Guam has stood down the darkness in this world before, and we will do so again," she said. "We do this not for ourselves or our politics, but for our children – and the hope that what we sacrifice today will win them a safer, healthier, better Guam tomorrow."

Since August, Guam has seen more than 2,500 new cases of infection and Covid-19-related deaths, now at 61.

Overall, 3,341 people on Guam have tested positive for Covid-19 since March.

While the first stay-at-home order reduced by 75% the movement of residents islandwide, the second one has been less effective at only 25%, the governor said.

Guam remains under Pandemic Condition of Readiness 1 and no additional restrictions are expected to be lifted anytime soon as positivity rates remain high.

More testing in the north

There will be more Covid-19 testing in the northern villages, the governor said, as multi-generational homes in the area are most vulnerable to infection.

Dededo has at least 916 positive cases and Yigo has 588, the latest Public Health data show. Other villages have as few as six to 13 cases.

The governor also said:

Daily testing has increased from an average of 27 a day in March to nearly 500 in October.

More than 55,000 tests have been conducted so far, or roughly a third of the population.

GovGuam partnered with private clinics and diagnostic laboratories to deliver faster test results.

The number of contact tracers went up from six in March to 46 now, and nearly 100 more are being trained.

Guam's Covid-19 bed capacity is 122, with 61 negative-pressure bed facilities.

"Every resource we have is working to contain Covid-19, to slow and stop the spread, but you are the solution —  your choices, your commitment and your tireless vigilance are the only way this will end," the governor said.

Employers as contact tracers

Dr. Hoa Nguyen, the chairman of the governor’s physicians advisory group, called on employers and employees to take a more active role in preventing the spread of Covid-19 as workplace infections have gone up recently.

"Every business place now is encouraged to do their own contact tracing," he said. "Public Health is a little bit behind, so it takes sometimes up to a week or so for them to reach the employer to say there's a positive in the workplace."

Clinics, he said, encourage employees who tested positive to give "consent" to the physician to notify their employer about the positive case, so that the employer can take steps to protect everyone at the workplace and their customers.

"If (an employee) doesn't want to give consent, then physician cannot release the name to their employer," Nguyen said. "That's a tricky part."

The largest cause of Covid-19 transmission is still family contact, but that's closely followed by community contact and, increasingly, workplace contact.

Nguyen recommended employers follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines allowing any employee who came into close contact with a positive case, to stay away from the workplace and to quarantine at home for 14 days.

The Families-First Coronavirus Response Act allows employees to get paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for reasons related to Covid-19, and the employer could avail of tax credits to offset the impact.

When's the best time to test?

Nguyen said employees with no symptoms after coming into contact with a Covid-positive individual should be tested on the fifth to seventh day after that contact, and not within the first four days.

That's to ensure that there's enough viral load that can be picked up during testing.

But during days one to four, that person should already be self-quarantining and employers should not allow them in the workplace.

Employers have the option of allowing their workers to return to work if their test on the fifth, sixth or seventh day comes out negative, but with a mask on, and with social distancing.

Christine Baleto, chairwoman of the Guam Chamber of Commerce, also a guest speaker at the Rotary Club of Northern Guam, said the chamber supports Nguyen's call for employers to do their part in controlling Covid-19.

"We are part of the solution in protecting our employees, our customers, our businesses, our community," she said.

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