By Johnnie Rosario
(Tumon, Guam) On February 5, a cargo ship with two sick crew members docked on Guam; the two people were evaluated by public health according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control protocols and it was determined they did not exhibit symptoms of corona virus. The cargo vessel had arrived from Taiwan and departed for Saipan the next day.
On February 17, another cargo ship arrived with a sick crew member on board; and according to seaport deputy manager Dominic Muna, the Department of Public Health and Social Services did not follow the same protocol in the evaluation of that crew member.
"They made the assessment over the phone," seaport general manager Rory Respicio said.
Mr. Respicio also told Kandit that no one from the ship disembarked; however, both a Customs official and a source close to the shipping industry said that the crew member was cleared by public health officials and was taken to a local clinic on February 17.
The ship arrived on Guam from Yokohama, Japan, where the Diamond Princess cruise ship was docked prior to news of the infection of several of its passengers with corona virus. Prior to Yokohama, the ship was in Korea - the country with the biggest outbreak outside of China.
Customs agents, who boarded the ship to inspect it did not get sick, according to the officer in charge, Captain Franklin Gutierrez.
The crew member had diarrhea, one of several corona virus symptoms.
"Fever, dry cough, trouble breathing, and sometimes pneumonia are the common symptoms of COVID-19," according to medical Dr. Todd Ellerin, in a February 27 article for Harvard Medical School. "There have been some reports of gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea) before respiratory symptoms occur, but this is largely a respiratory virus."
(Dr. Ellerin is an infectious disease specialist and vice chairman of the department of medicine at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, Massachusetts.)
The ship was scheduled to depart from Guam one day later, on February 18. Mr. Respicio issued a new and more robust protocol for the handling of ships and cargo exposed to sick people on that same day.
We asked governor's chief policy advisor Carlo Branch whether the governor is aware of both the breach in public health assessment protocol and the release of sick visitors into the community, in a message sent to him Saturday morning:
"[C]ustoms officers over the past week have notified public health officials of passengers arriving from hot spots such as Korea with visible illness. Customs folks tell us that public health only does an assessment over the phone and every single person has been cleared by them even though they are showing signs of illness. Is the governor aware of this? Does this concern her in any. way? As of today has the governor ordered any change in this protocol?"
We resent the questions Saturday evening. Mr. Branch has read the messages, but has not yet responded.
Senators plan for more nurses, medical supplies, protective gear, and protecting public from price gouging
Meanwhile, Speaker Tina Muna Barnes's communications director, Chirag Bhojwani, responded to our questions on the matter, and wishes to inform the public about proactive steps she and a group of bipartisan senators are taking to respond to the coronavirus situation:
The Speaker is not aware of this incident but based on the briefing provided earlier this week to the leadership, it was mentioned that most of screening is done before an individual lands so that officials can identify and monitor Persons of Interest. The Government of Guam is following the Guam Pandemic Plan – and DPHSS is the lead agency. Along with the US Customs and Border Patrol, and other governmental stakeholders that operate within the Airport, we are following protocols.
Our office has been advised that should there be a sick person on an incoming plane or vessel, the DPHSS Communicable Disease Response Protocol is as follows:
● If an ill passenger is identified, the airline calls Tower 1 prior to landing.
● Tower 1 notifies Guam Customs & Quarantine Agency (CQA).
● CQA contacts the Territorial Epidemiologist at 888-WARN.
● The Territorial Epidemiologist gathers information on the case and determines if the
passenger meets U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) criteria for a Patient Under Investigation (PUI). If criteria is met, DPHSS Communicable Response Team (a DPHSS nurse and Bureau of Communicable Disease staff) is activated to the airport or vessel.
● DPHSS Communicable Response Team conducts a clinical and epidemiological assessment.
● Following an assessment, the DPHSS Medical Director is contacted and the passenger is directed to the hospital or a private healthcare provider.
Given that DPHSS will be hosting a Review of the Guam Pandemic Plan this upcoming week, the Speaker will be reaching out to her colleagues to plan for next week’s session accordingly. She will be bringing this concern up at this meeting amongst all our Government of Guam agencies. In the meantime, the Speaker has been informed that GovGuam Agencies have been taking proactive measures as we prepare to address the COVID outbreak as if it is already here. The Governor has been working diligently with the appropriate authorities and Speaker has no doubts that the Guam Communicable Disease Response Plan, which was reviewed by experts, will ensure the island’s health and safety. We will be ready.
Furthermore, the Governor has ordered the hiring of Registered Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses, and other healthcare personnel. Speaker Muña Barnes, along with Senator Mary C. Torres had previously introduced Bill 239-35 back in November which aims at addressing Guam’s shortage of Nurses. She has written a follow up letter to the Oversight Chairwoman to hold a hearing on Bill 239-35 as soon as possible.
There is a draft bill that has bipartisan support that will be on Tuesday which will address proactive prevention efforts, purchasing screening equipment and medical supplies, leasing quarantine facilities, the immediate hiring of healthcare professionals, emergency personnel and activation of the Guam National Guard.
Additionally, with reports of a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment such as masks, the Speaker will be making a motion notwithstanding the house rules during Session on Tuesday to move her and Senator San Agustin’s bill, Bill 208-35 to the top of the agenda. This bill would allow for measures to be in place to prevent price gouging should the Governor declare a State of Emergency due to COVID-19. Guam’s current price gouging prevention measures are triggered when a natural disaster is impeding. As we face new threats to our island, she felt that it was time to include evolving threats as a trigger for Guam’s price gouging laws.
As I have stated before, the Speaker has no doubts that the Guam Communicable Disease Response Plan, which was reviewed by experts, will ensure the island’s health and safety and she is intending to take further action to protect our beautiful Island of Guam.
Should there be further concerns, she looks forward to addressing them with our Governmental Partners this week, and should there be a need for further Public outreach, she will work collaboratively with the Governor’s Office, DPHSS, and GHS/OCD to urge for the activation of the Joint Information Center so that the experts on this matter can brief the public.
Ms. Muna Barnes also has reached out to the federal government for support and resources for Guam.
While the Legislature has been working to address coronavirus concerns by the public, the governor's executive assistant, Cathy Flores, was kind enough to let the public know on her Facebook profile that the governor hosted an exclusive boozefest with food and complete with a band at Government House this past Thursday. Photos below.