Vice Speaker Telena Nelson on Thursday opened up a public conversation about an extreme measure to keep the deadly new coronavirus, called 2019-nCoV, from reaching Guam's shores.
She proposed suspending flights into Guam from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other places that have confirmed or suspected cases of the virus. The death toll in China has more than tripled in a few days to more than 170 Thursday, and the confirmed cases have reached several thousand.
The Guam public's reactions to Nelson's proposal have been mixed.
We urge caution on suspending inbound flights from some of Guam's major tourism markets such as Japan and South Korea because it wouldn't effectively stop the virus from reaching us. The nature of international travel is that transit hubs from other locations would still expose people to the virus if there ever would be a disease carrier in any airport or flight.
Palau did recently decide to suspend incoming flights from China, but in Guam's case, there are no direct flights from China to the island. Most tourists from mainland China travel to Guam via South Korea, Japan or Manila.
It's impossible to suspend the major inbound Guam flights that sustain our trade and tourism. More than 21,000 jobs and households will suffer.
Most countries worldwide have not implemented travel bans in response to this outbreak that started in Wuhan, China, and they are not recommended by the World Health Organization, according to the island nation of Fiji's health ministry.
What we do appreciate with Nelson's action is it helped to foster community discussions about what we can do.
What we do need to do is make sure our government health care facilities can adequately handle a case or cases of 2019-nCoV.
We need to hear the details on containment if a passenger arrives on Guam and later turns out to be a carrier of this virus that's rapidly spreading in China and parts of the world.
Government of Guam officials need to tell us what the plan will be if Guam Memorial Hospital will overflow beyond capacity and how patients will be isolated. We need to hear plans on how health care workers will get proper protective gear so they will not end up being carriers of this disease.
While the Department of Public Health and Social Services has laid out a plan that involves isolating a traveler once he or she shows symptoms, there have been cases when transmitters of the new coronavirus didn't show signs of the pneumonia-like illness until much later into the progression of the viral disease and via submission of bloodwork.
A 10-year-old boy's case, in Wuhan, China, published Jan. 24 in the Lancet medical journal, was the first to demonstrate person-to-person and health care-associated spread of the 2019-nCoV virus. The asymptomatic infection has fueled concern the pathogen, which has already spread to 15 countries and infected close to 6,000 people, may turn out to be harder to detect and contain than SARS, Bloomberg News reported Thursday.
We on Guam have reason to be concerned, and that's in part because of uncertainty or a perception that the capacity of our health care system will not be able to handle an outbreak.
The local government, in partnership with federal health officials, can help ease fears by giving us updates on comprehensive efforts toward preparation and containment.
The more we know, the less worrisome we'll be.