By Eric Rosario
(Tamuning, Guam) While Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero continues denying the people of Guam a mass testing protocol, Commonwealth Gov. Ralph Torres has just increased testing capacity in Saipan exponentially over Guam.
According to an update by Mr. Torres today, "5,000 additional test kits and the PerkinElmer chemagic 360 machine that can process 96 samples in an hour and up to 4,000 samples per day arrived on Saipan this morning. Additional test kits are on the way. CHCC continues to prepare the CNMI's community-based testing strategy."
Saipan can now test in one hour what Guam is testing in five days. Their daily testing capacity now is about 200 times more than Guam's.
Speaker Tina Muna Barnes continues to implore Ms. Leon Guerrero to reverse course and follow Mr. Torres's lead. The speaker last week began asking the Guam governor to purchase the same test kits Mr. Torres purchased for the CNMI from South Korea. She presented the governor with a plan involving former Sen. Dennis Rodriguez's non-profit group Todu Guam Foundation that would have increased testing capacity on Guam to 450 tests per day, or about 20 times the tests being conducted now.
Ms. Leon Guerrero's state surgeon for the COVID-19 crisis, Dr. Michael Cruz, sent a response rebuking the speaker's suggestion and saying that it is unwise to use those particular tests because they are not FDA approved. On the same day Dr. Cruz wrote that letter, the federal government had announced its purchase of 750,000 of these exact test kits from South Korea.
Ms. Muna Barnes, undeterred, wrote back to Dr. Cruz, telling him:
"Per the FDA, they have permitted States and Territories to adopt their own protocols – as permissible by local laws. From my analysis of our Guam Code Annotated, the Leon Guerrero Tenorio Administration, under the powers granted to our Public Health Director, already has the power to adopt such protocols. Should I be mistaken, and you need further authority, I hope you reach out to this branch of Government as soon as possible. For policy-makers to debate legislation that impacts an individual and their family’s life – this is not something that we take lightly. We would need ample time to understand the parameters – and more importantly, we would need the input of healthcare providers like yourself. This takes time – and I don’t want to rush this process.
"While you acknowledge that other states have been desperate to 'adopt protocols that deviate from the standard of care' – states like Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Washington have already invoked this provision. Some of these states, such as New York (14,000 deaths) and Washington (500+ deaths), are only exploring these options after the onset of a crisis that is unmanageable. For this reason, I strongly implore you to be proactive - before we reach the breaking point of our local healthcare capacity. The science is clear, and every expert has acknowledged – mass testing (testing every single person on our Island) is a successful approach."
Despite the opportunity to perform mass testing and to follow Mr. Torres's lead, Ms. Leon Guerrero is digging in her heels, telling the public that the mass testing idea is a "dead one."