CDC team, we welcome your help in solving Guam's COVID-19 puzzles

VACCINE: Dozens of doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are ready to be administered at the University of Guam Calvo Field House in Mangilao on Sept. 13. Post file photo

Guam public health officials on Thursday confirmed that a team from the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is arriving on the island to investigate multiple cases of patients who were dead by the time they were brought to island hospitals, and subsequently classified as COVID-19-related fatalities.

The number of patients who were "dead on arrival" and whose deaths were classified as COVID-19-related, has increased from 24 in a Sept. 22 report to at least 35 in a matter of weeks.

According to the Department of Public Health and Social Services report, 62% of the recent COVID-19-related deaths, or 24 individuals, were pronounced dead on arrival between July and Sept. 20 of this year. Seventeen patients tested positive for the disease on the day they died or immediately afterward, "implying that neither they nor anyone else knew they were infected," the report stated.

Since that report, at least 11 other COVID-19 patients have been classified as dead on arrival at island hospitals, according to Post files.

The CDC team's arrival follows a request by Public Health Director Art San Agustin, in a letter sent earlier this month to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, to send an investigative team to Guam.

DPHSS chief public health officer Chima Mbakwem said in a press conference Thursday the CDC team's mission “is to investigate the risk factors of COVID-19 transmission and severe diseases on Guam."

“And also the primary objective is to conduct the investigation to assess the common characteristics of transmission and disease among those who are classified as dead on arrival,” Mbakwem added.

The number of severe COVID-19 cases on Guam is high, Mbakwem acknowledged, "despite our high vaccination rates."

As of this week, the island surpassed a very high vaccination rate of 82% of the island's age-eligible population. That's extremely high considering the nation's average is 72% for partial vaccination.

More cases among the vaccinated

But even when our community has predominantly complied with the government of Guam vaccination drive, we continue to see more deaths and we have seen more vaccinated patients ending up in hospitals. In recent weeks, between a third and half of our hospitalized COVID-19 patients are people who have been vaccinated.

And the number of people who still became infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, even after they were vaccinated, continues to grow – to a total of 3,366 this week. That's an increase from 2,859 reported COVID-19 infections in vaccinated Guam residents as of two weeks ago.

The latest data shows an infection rate of 34 COVID-19 cases for every 1,000 vaccinated people on Guam.

Still, Public Health officials have emphasized the need to get vaccinated to reduce the chance of getting severely sick or dying.

Most patients who were dead on arrival were unvaccinated

The cases of patients who were declared dead on arrival since Sept. 24 ranged in age from infancy to 75. And most of the people who were dead on arrival were unvaccinated.

- A baby boy who was brought to Naval Hospital Guam on Oct. 13, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. He was the island's 220th COVID-19-related fatality, and he came from a household with three or four COVID-19 cases.

- The 217th fatality was pronounced dead on arrival at Guam Regional Medical City on Oct. 12. The patient was a 75-year-old woman who was unvaccinated. Authorities did not know if she had any underlying health conditions. 

- The 210th COVID-19-related fatality was a 63-year-old woman who also was pronounced dead on arrival at U.S. Naval Hospital Guam. She was fully vaccinated and had underlying medical conditions.  

- The 209th fatality was a 72-year-old woman who was pronounced dead on arrival at Guam Memorial Hospital. The woman had underlying health conditions and was not vaccinated.  

- The 205th fatality was pronounced dead on arrival at GRMC on Oct. 3. The patient was a 72-year-old woman who was unvaccinated and who was reported to have had underlying health conditions. She tested positive for the coronavirus on Oct. 3.

- The 200th fatality was pronounced dead on arrival at GMH on Sept. 30. The patient was a 27-year-old man who was unvaccinated and had underlying health conditions.  

- The 199th fatality was pronounced dead on arrival at Naval Hospital on Sept. 29. The patient was a 52-year-old woman who was unvaccinated and was reported to have had underlying health conditions. 

- Guam's 196th fatality was pronounced dead on arrival at GMH on Sept. 28. The patient was a 59-year-old man, unvaccinated, with underlying health conditions who was known to have tested positive for coronavirus.  

- The 192nd fatality was pronounced dead on arrival at GMH on Sept. 26. The patient was a 53-year-old man with no known underlying health conditions.

- The 186th  fatality was pronounced dead on arrival Sept. 25. The patient was a 69-year-old man who was unvaccinated. Officials weren't aware of any underlying health conditions.  

- The 185th fatality was pronounced dead on arrival at GMH on Sept. 24. The patient was a 56-year-old man who was unvaccinated and had no known underlying health conditions.

Health officials have said there is a recent phenomenon among patients who were pronounced dead on arrival at island hospitals, which possibly can be attributed to silent hypoxia, or a dangerous lack of oxygen that goes unnoticed because some patients don't feel difficulty breathing until it's too late.

The arrival of the CDC team will help Guam better understand what's going on in our community, in the hope more lives can be saved.

At a time when the vast majority of Guam residents are vaccinated and adhere to mask mandates, we are still seeing troubling numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths.

Maybe the CDC also can check whether the handling, storage and administering of the vaccines – shipped thousands of miles to Guam – was all done according to safety standards. 

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