By Troy Torres
(Tumon, Guam) As of the latest reports from Gov. Ralph Torres, there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Northern Mariana Islands, but House minority members don't want to chance its spread, in case the virus already is there and the limited testing being done isn't catching its prevalence.
In a message to thousands of viewers on Facebook Sunday night, minority leader Congressman Ed Propst implored the governor to shut down dine-in and poker establishments. "This is creating hazardous conditions where people are very close to each other," he said. "If you think about the poker parlors, people who could have the virus but are asymptomatic could be pressing those buttons going from machine to machine and then the next person comes, and that's how this thing can spread."
Mr. Torres was among the first in the nation to declare a state of emergency, which he did in late January, and requested assistance from President Trump to help the Commonwealth deal with the impending economic downturn the global COVID-19 crisis has caused in Saipan. The six members of the independent minority, Mr. Propst and representatives Tina Sablan, Donald Manglona, Richard Lizama, Sheila Babauta, and Edmund Villagomez, are asking the governor to act as though the virus is in the islands, and to contain its possible spread.
"[W]e need a mandatory Commonwealth-wide lockdown on social gatherings in any public venue for at least the next two weeks. Despite your emergency declaration and public outreach urging residents to stay home, we continue to receive reports from worried citizens about parties, novenas, cockfights, crowded gaming establishments, etc. We believe that a higher level of enforcement is necessary at this point, and we urge you to take that next step. We also urge that you implement a strict, mandatory quarantine for all incoming travelers, enforceable by fines and penalties, similar to that recently ordered by Hawaii’s Governor Ige and in accordance with the CNMI Emergency Health Powers Act, 3 CMC §§ 2181etseq." - minority legislators to Mr. Torres in a letter today
This is the third letter the independent minority has written to the governor regarding action needed by the Commonwealth in the face of the COVID-19 threat. The legislators and Congressman Gregorio "Kilili" Sablan had been pushing the governor to make the proper declarations and requests necessary to open federal money and loan opportunities up to Commonwealth workers and businesses affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
In response to Mr. Sablan, the governor informed him of steps his office had taken to avail of the federal relief. The minority members thanked the governor in their letter regarding the matter today, and renewed their appeal for local action to stop price gouging, set aside utilities disconnections, taxpayer obligations, and other financial burdens worrying Commonwealth residents.
"In this state of emergency, people must be protected from losing their homes, livelihoods, and access to critical utilities. Taxpayers need relief from upcoming deadlines and penalties. Government employees showing up to work must be protected from infection to the greatest extent possible, and they must be assured more flexibility and access to sick leave if needed to care for themselves and their families."