A 4-month-old baby boy was one of the three COVID-19-related fatalities reported Thursday night by the Joint Information Center.
The infant was brought to Naval Hospital Guam on Oct. 13, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. He is the island's 220th COVID-19-related fatality, the JIC stated.
The 221st COVID-19-related fatality was a 64-year-old man who died at the Guam Regional Medical City on Oct. 14. He had been vaccinated against the coronavirus and was reported to have had other health conditions, the JIC stated.
The 222nd COVID-19-related fatality was a 21-year-old woman who died on Oct. 14. She wasn't vaccinated and she was reported to have had underlying health conditions, JIC stated.
“As a mother and grandmother, I cannot think of a greater, more excruciating pain than the loss of a child. In times of mourning, saying goodbye to anyone is never easy, but saying goodbye to a sweet infant is truly devastating,” said Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero.
She said first gentleman Jeff Cook, Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio and she extend sympathies and prayers for all those who have lost loved ones.
She added her hope "that our community be ever mindful that this horrible disease touches us all, especially the most vulnerable and defenseless.”
The announcement followed a morning press conference by the Department of Public Health and Social Services during which officials noted that even though the number of new cases reported daily seems to have decreased slightly, the island remains in a surge. On Thursday night, DPHSS reported 95 new cases of COVID-19 out of 996 tests performed Oct. 13. Thirty cases were identified through contact tracing.
During the DPHSS update, officials noted that data shows a 2% rate for "breakthrough" cases, or cases in which people contracted COVID-19 despite being vaccinated.
From Feb. 7 to Oct. 7, Guam had 2,859 cases of fully vaccinated residents who later tested positive for COVID-19.
While these breakthrough cases aren’t unusual, Dr. Annette David and Dr. Ann Pobutsky said, they encouraged all residents to get vaccinated, and to continue practicing the tried-and-true interventions of wearing masks, practicing social distancing and washing hands.
David, the chairperson of the Guam State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup and consultant for DPHSS, along with Pobutsky, Guam’s territorial epidemiologist, answered questions regarding the latest COVID-19 statistics gathered by DPHSS. They both emphasized that the vaccines are working to keep more people from experiencing severe symptoms.
Pobutsky said the breakthrough cases aren't something to obsess over, particularly as the island is likely to see more COVID-19 cases because of the delta variant.
"Delta is here, it’s been here at least since July. It’s more infectious, it’s more serious, and we did see a lot of hospitalizations and deaths during this surge, but most of those people were unvaccinated,” Pobutsky said.
Pobutsky said the 18-39 and the 40-59 age groups make up the majority of cases overall, as well as the majority of the breakthrough cases. The infection rates were 42.6% and 35.1%, respectively for these age groups.
By comparison, there were 15.4% breakthrough cases among those age 60-74, 4.3% among those age 12-17 and 3.6% among those age 75 or older.
“It could be ... these people are more likely to be out and about. They’re more likely to be working or in groups,” she said. “And (with) the elderly, we’re not seeing that because more of them are vaccinated and have more restrictive behaviors. Maybe they’re scared of COVID-19. I would be if I was elderly.”
Data also shows that a majority of the breakthrough cases had been vaccinated with Pfizer vaccine, at 64.9%, followed by Moderna, at 26.4%, and Johnson & Johnson at 6.4%, with 2.3% unknown. It wasn’t immediately clear, from the data - which is available on the DPHSS website - whether these levels correspond with the percentage of the population who chose each vaccine.
Officials also noted the average number of days between the final vaccination dose and a positive test was 146.29 days, or about 4.5 months. Currently, officials are urging residents to get vaccinated if their second dose was received a minimum of six months prior.
‘It’s just the mathematics’
David noted that no vaccine is 100% effective. And Guam, even though the number of new cases has decreased slightly, remains in a surge, Pobutsky said.
“And as you vaccinate more people, you will also see growing numbers of breakthroughs, it’s just the mathematics,” David said.
“I liken vaccination to an umbrella,” David added. “When it’s a drizzle - when the community transmission is slow - you tend to be protected by the umbrella. But when you’re out in a typhoon - when the community transmission is very high - you will still get wet, so you need additional layers of protection, which would be your masking and social distancing and all that.”