By Nancy I. Maanao
(Tumon, Guam) In his Monday morning interview with KKMP, Gov. Ralph Torres doubled down on his decision to allow an international marathon and triathlon to happen in Saipan over the next two weekends, despite growing concerns about coronavirus infection in the Marianas.
Saipan is anticipating participants from off island, some from coronavirus hotspot countries. It is unknown whether any of the participants will transit through Guam on the way to or from Saipan.
The first event - the 2020 Saipan Marathon - happens this Saturday, March 14. Seven days later Saipan will host the Tagaman 2020 Triathlon.
Both Republicans and independent members of the House and at least one senator have called upon Mr. Torres and the Marianas Visitors Authority to cancel the events.
"Based on the serious threat to the health and safety of the residents of the CNMI as well as the potential harm to which the off-island competitors will be exposed, we hereby request that the Marianas Visitor's Authority postpone both the 2020 Saipan Marathon and the Tagaman Triathlon. We understand that there will be serious economic impacts as a result of these postponements but the consequences of the Coronavirus spreading through the Commonwealth will be even more catastrophic and the welfare of the CNMI must always come first." - March 3, 2020 letter from House Speaker BJ Attao and Vice Speaker Larry Delon Guerrero to Gov. Ralph Torres
Sen. Paul Manglona expressed his agreement with the decisive action Mr. Torres took on January 29, following a letter Mr. Manglona wrote to the governor asking him to declare a state of significant emergency. Mr. Torres issued that declaration later that day, which proclaimed a serious assessment, review, and response to the global outbreak and the need to prevent infection in the NMI. Mr. Torres's recent decision to allow the marathon and triathlon to move forward has left Mr. Manglona bewildered as to the change in readiness by the governor, especially as the infection has spiraled nearly out of control throughout the world:
"[N]othing has changed since [January] 29 regarding the concerns raised in my letter - uncertainty about the virus, its fast- spreading nature, the lack of a vaccine, and the fact that asymptomatic people may carry the virus. What has changed is that now South Korea has more than 7,300 confirmed infections. Back in January when I wrote the letter, China had only 4,500 infections." - Sen. Paul Manglona
Prevention of infection is keen in both the NMI and Guam, where no cases have been confirmed, albeit for lack of on-island testing capability. The possibility of marathon and triathlon participants transiting through Guam raises additional capacity questions about the Guam airport's readiness to quarantine or isolate symptomatic travelers.
Kandit yesterday received a series of emails we requested through the Freedom of Information Act among government officials discussing the Coronavirus issue. Among the emails was a February 12, 2020 train between Department of Public Health and Social Services Officials and Joint Region Marianas that clearly indicates that as late as three weeks ago, the Guam international airport was not ready to quarantine or isolate anyone.
On February 5, 2020, JRM Region Emergency Management Service Chief Thomas Manglona wrote to Jonathan B. Lujan at DPHSS inquiring whether there are "any quarantine and/or isolation areas at the Guam International Airport."
Mr. Lujan responded five days later, including other JRM officials and Annette Aguon, administrator of the DPHSS Bureau of Communicable Disease: "We do have a Medical Observation Room at the airport."
Two days after that and with the misunderstanding that the Medical Observation Area is a quarantine/isolation facility, Mr. Manglona responded, "What we need to know are there procedures in place that'll trigger the isolation/quarantine area at GIAA? If there is, could we see that documentation and who is responsible to initiating that process? What is the capability of that isolation/quarantine area? If you need to move people whose responsibility is that?"
Ms. Aguon responded after the close of business that day that there is no such facility at the airport. Referring to the medical observation room, she wrote to Mr. Manglona,
"This room is not a true isolation room since it lacks such things as negative pressure, ventilation, filtration, etc. The DPHSS and the Guam International Airport Authority are looking at procuring a HEPA filter for the Public Health room."
Meanwhile, public affairs for Joint Region, Naval Hospital, and Guam Homeland Security all have refused to confirm that there are no suspected or confirmed Coronavirus patients at Naval Hospital.
"House members I've spoken with, including my fellow minority members and Commerce and Tourism Chairman Lee Pan Guerrero, are in agreement and support this letter and position. Guam and Hawaii have postponed events for the health and safety of their people. We should too. Our constituents have been calling us asking to cancel or postpone these events, but we have explained to them that this is up to Governor Torres and MVA." - Congressman Ed Propst, referring to Mr. Attao and Mr. Deleon Guerrero's letter to Mr. Torres
Congressman Ivan Blanco, who supports the position taken by legislative leaders in their letter to Mr. Torres, stated, "As I understand it, it may still move forward, and I truly hope our beefed up infrastructure is capable of detecting any participant with symptoms of the virus. Let's keep our people and visitors in prayer at this time for their health and safety."