HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero wants the Supreme Court of Guam to acknowledge the government’s authority to quarantine inbound travelers in its effort to protect the public's health.
According to a statement, the request for a declaratory judgement is being made because “the judgement of a single Superior Court judge should not be substituted for the expert opinion of the health care professionals who fight Covid-19 on Guam every day.”
Travelers, upon arriving on Guam, have to quarantine in government facilities. The quarantine, at first, called for 14 days in the facilities with some exceptions for people who were considered essential workers or those who claimed hardship, which includes those with injuries or other medical conditions and those who traveled to Guam to attend funerals.
There’s been a growing number of lawsuits filed in the Superior Court of Guam by travelers. Many of the cases argue that the passengers' due process rights were violated.
Superior Court of Guam Judge Elyze Iriarte had noted in September that the Department of Public Health and Social Services, in its failure to provide quarantined passengers with information on their right to petition to get out of government quarantine facilities, was denying residents their fundamental civil liberties.
There have been changes in the quarantine process since those first few cases were argued successfully, and the travelers, mostly local residents, were allowed by the court to complete their quarantine at home.
More recently, upon arrival at the airport, travelers are informed of the quarantine requirement, and the option to get tested on their sixth day of quarantine in a government facility. If they test negative, they can go to their homes to complete the 14-day quarantine. Also, while at the airport, travelers are provided with information about their right to an attorney if they disagree with the quarantine.
CDC reduces quarantine recommendations
The quarantine process has and continues to be recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 14 days. However, the CDC has noted the difficulty this presents for most people and has said quarantine can end after Day 10 without testing and if no symptoms have been reported during daily monitoring. With this strategy, residual post-quarantine transmission risk is estimated to be about 1% with an upper limit of about 10%, the CDC states.
CDC also has stated that quarantine can end after Day 7 if a diagnostic specimen tests negative and if no symptoms were reported during daily monitoring.
With this strategy, the residual post-quarantine transmission risk is estimated to be about 5% with an upper limit of about 12%.
The governor, in her statement on Friday, contends that quarantine is “one of our most effective tools against Covid-19, and we ask the high court to recognize that fact.”
“Every time the lower court shortens quarantine against the advice of physicians and scientists, our community is at risk. We are an island and preventing a third wave of Covid-19 requires that Guam have the legal authority to implement a quarantine policy that works for Guam,” the governor stated.
According to court documents, filed by administration attorneys Leslie Travis and Sophia Santos Diaz on Dec. 24, as of the date of the filing there were 268 people who tested positive for Covid-19 while in quarantine. That's nearly 4% of the total number of the island's positive cases. Additionally, they point out that the spread of Covid-19 on Guam started with two passengers in March.
"Like these original patients, the 268 individuals who have tested positive for Covid-19 while in government quarantine cannot be considered in a vacuum - they represent exponential opportunity for infection within the community were these individuals not subject to the quarantine policy," documents state.
In petitioning documents, the governor specifically requests the court issue a judgement declaring:
• Guidelines issued by the CDC for the quarantine of individuals are not mandates imposed on the local government, but rather serve as recommendations that must be considered in the totality of circumstances.
• The DPHSS is statutorily authorized to implement quarantine conditions that are most restricting than CDC guidelines where local conditions, including the availability of medical resources and personnel and the comorbidities of the population, warrant.
• When reviewing quarantine orders issued under the Island Guahan Emergency Health Powers Act, the appropriate standard of review is one of rational basis and where such order bears a reasonable relationship to public health emergency and there is no plan and clear invasion of fundamental rights, such orders should be allowed to stand.
Declaratory relief refers to a court's judgment stating the rights of parties without ordering any specific action or listing awards for damages, according to the Legal Information Institute.