HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sending a team to Guam this month to determine the common characteristics and factors involving patients who were “dead on arrival” at hospitals and whose deaths were linked to Covid-19.

Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services Director Art San Agustin wrote to Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, CDC director, requesting assistance.

In addition to requesting a review of patients pronounced dead on arrival, Public Health also asked CDC to look into what the DPHSS director called a "disturbing and extremely concerning trend."

“Unfortunately, despite our relatively high vaccination coverage, we are experiencing a surge of Covid-19 cases in our territory,” San Agustin wrote to Walensky in the Oct. 7 letter.

“For a few days, we had the highest case rates in the country. The number of deaths due to Covid-19 (has) also increased with a surprising number of cases being individuals who died before even reaching the hospital. The cases of dead-on-arrival, make up a large proportion of our Covid-19 deaths — over the past three weeks at approximately 30%.”

San Agustin also noted that DPHSS has undertaken numerous interventions “to interrupt this disturbing and extremely concerning trend.”

“Although we remain hopeful about the effectiveness of our campaign, this has not made a substantial impact thus far. We would like CDC expertise to investigate and address our surge of DOAs,” he wrote.

He noted Guam's efforts include searching for similarities among these cases, a campaign to encourage residents to seek medical care early, and providing a community clinic expanding monoclonal antibody therapy treatment.

San Agustin's letter was sent about a week after Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero reinstated social gathering limits and other restrictions in an effort to curb the surge of new cases, which soared to more than 300 new cases in a day on some days.

Two weeks after San Agustin sent his letter to CDC, DPHSS data showed that 62% of the recent Covid-19-related deaths, or 24 individuals, were pronounced dead on arrival between July and Sept. 20. Since that report, at least 11 other Covid-19 patients have been classified as dead on arrival at island hospitals, according to The Guam Daily Post files.

San Agustin specifically requested an epidemiologist, Chee Kin Lam, whom he said has worked on Guam and has knowledge of the local culture and population. He also requested a laboratory expert, a data expert, a medical anthropologist and one science subject matter expert.

San Agustin and other health officials have acknowledged that health experts at CDC and across the nation are spread thin. DPHSS chief public health officer Chima Mbakwem said he was tracking three experts to arrive in Guam around Oct. 29.

“The mission for this team is to investigate the risk factors of Covid-19 transmission and severe diseases on Guam. And this is despite our high vaccination rates, and also look at our strategies for testing and how to expand our capacity,” Mbakwem said during a Thursday morning press conference.

“And also the primary objective is to conduct the investigation to assess the common characteristics of transmission and disease among those who are classified as dead on arrival.”

Mbakwem said DPHSS has received support from CDC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency since the pandemic struck more than a year ago. He said getting the “boots-on-the-ground technical support from the federal government has given us the tools we need to expand Covid-19 resources to our people and fill the gaps — vaccination, testing, monoclonal antibody therapy, booster shots, quarantine and isolation.”

“It’s important we remain focused on the mission to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and encourage healthier habits. Now that we have a team arriving to investigate DOA cases, we hope to prevent more fatalities from occurring,” he added.

DPHSS also said three additional members from the U.S. Public Health Service arrived last week and one member who arrived in September has extended the length of stay for another 30 days.

The four clinical laboratory scientists are assigned specific roles at the Guam Public Health Laboratory. All four are highly skilled U.S. Department of Health and Human Services senior officers providing technical laboratory assistance to the local lab, Public Health said.

“The department has a good working relationship with its federal partners, and they have been very supportive and responsive to our needs. We recognize that there are large demands across the U.S., and resources may be limited. This is why we are always grateful for the support, the expertise and the guidance we receive. It’s also an opportunity for our team to learn and exchange ideas as we work alongside our federal counterparts,” Public Health Director San Agustin stated in a press release.

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