COMMONWEALTH Healthcare Corp. Chief Executive Officer Esther L. Muna on Wednesday confirmed that a specimen of the Alpha variant and a second specimen of the Delta variant have been identified in the CNMI.
CHCC said the second Delta specimen was from an individual identified on arrival in late June. “This individual was identified as a prior positive case in Florida, and was not counted toward the CNMI total. Unfortunately, we did not start collecting vaccination data among our positives until afterward,” CHCC added.
Muna said the specimens were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site in Atlanta, Georgia.
The first confirmed Delta variant case in the CNMI was identified in August although the specimen was confirmed positive for Covid-19 in July.
The CHCC stores samples in freezers before sending them to the CDC in batches.
“It does take a while to get the result from CDC, and obviously the CNMI is not the only one that they’re looking at, and so it does take time. Right now, we’re basically in a position where we’re saying, every case that comes in, we’re going to treat it like it’s a Delta variant. We’re going to basically operate that way just to be able to make sure that we protect the CNMI,” said Muna.
But the CNMI will not be making any immediate changes to its Covid-19 protocols, even if the Commonwealth reaches 80% vaccination rate this week, she added.
“We’re watching what’s happening in Guam, what’s happening in Hawaii, and the protocols that we have set, in our opinion, are working,” Muna said.
“We are trying to identify individuals, and we are able to identify them on arrival or on day five. We have active cases in isolation right now. These are individuals that we have identified at the border. We’re still doing community-based testing. We’re still testing at the hospital facility. School testing is still ongoing. For now, we are still identifying Covid virus in individuals that are arriving at the airport or entering our borders,” Muna said.
If a sample is highly infectious, CHCC will instruct all contact tracers and the surveillance team to quarantine individuals, including frontliners who have had contact with the individuals identified for the virus.
“We are putting up those cautionary measures just for the sake of making sure that it doesn’t go into the community,” Muna said.
“One of the things that we want to tell the community and the public is that we are monitoring cases within the region, but also, if we need to make some changes to our protocols, we are going to do so.”
As for the Delta variant, “it spreads faster and has a shorter incubation period. It basically causes a lot of stressors for contact tracing, and so we want to make sure that what we’re doing here in the CNMI is prevention, preventing that variant from entering our community. Because we cannot be 100% certain that it will not enter the community, we need to, again, continue to emphasize the need to put on your mask especially in a closed setting, in a crowded setting, especially when you don’t know if someone is vaccinated or not.”
CHC is also urging individuals to get vaccinated.
“It is your choice. So we’re still urging people to please think of it as a way to protect others and especially when we’re seeing there’s still a large number of individuals in this community who are unvaccinated or are ineligible to get vaccinated.
“So again, these protocols that we’re enforcing, urging individuals to get vaccinated, it’s really to try to prevent the Delta variant from spreading in the community,” Muna said.
“I am also very cautious in saying that 80% [vaccination rate] is our herd immunity for the CNMI. This community is about family, and when we’re gathering with each other we often have individuals that are probably not vaccinated. It’s hard for us to say that there’s herd immunity when you have a large number of individuals that are still not vaccinated,” she reiterated.
“Schools have started. When we set the 80% vaccination target back in March or April... the Delta variant was not in the picture…. The fact that it can spread rapidly, especially to the unvaccinated, is something we have to take into account for this community…. We do not want our doctors overwhelmed, especially if there’s a community transmission and there’s an increase in hospitalization. You’re seeing what’s happening in Guam and in Hawaii where they’re running out of beds, and we don’t want to be in that position, especially when we have a single hospital system. Even if we open the alternate care site, the people that are going to be running the operations are the same people that are already working here. So it is something that we also need to be mindful of.”