Guam Department of Education employees and parents were given insight into the various plans the governor and medical officials are working on to ensure schools are safe for students when given the green light to reopen.
The governor’s intent is to reopen schools as soon as it is safe to do so, but that means the situation in the community must be addressed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“We are giving it one week, and I asked the superintendent to delay ... for at least one week. So we can look at the data. ... We will then act accordingly and we let the the superintendent and the teachers and the parents know,” the governor said.
Schools were told they could open this coming Monday, Sept. 13, if they were prepared to do so. However, Leon Guerrero said she asked GDOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez to delay after that day's COVID-19 positives were tallied in the hundreds.
On Sept. 7, Guam had a record-high daily count of 325 new cases out of 1,647 COVID-19 tests conducted. That was followed by another three-digit positive count of 215 out of 1,197 tests on Sept. 8.
Are the mandates working?
The week-long delay will allow the governor, the Medical Advisory team, the Surgeon Cell, Department of Public Health and Social Services and school leadership to assess the pandemic situation to see if the governor’s mandates are working to curb community transmission.
“These are very trying times. I know people are struggling and I know people are anxious. People are afraid, we are seeing more death. We are seeing death in the homes as a result of COVID," Gov. Leon Guerrero said. "We have to be united on this. We have to hold hands together and work together to beat this virus. Otherwise, if we don't, our hospitals are going to be overwhelmed.”
On Friday, it was reported that 20% of the 325 cases identified on Wednesday, ranged from infants to 17-year-olds.
Kids - a lower threat than adults
While medical officials have said most COVID-19 positive children will not take up hospital space, they could pose a risk to vulnerable members of the population.
“They don't spread it as much as adults. The threat is lower. But we fear for those homes where they go to, where there are unvaccinated people or people who might be vulnerable, even though they've been vaccinated," Leon Guerrero said. "That's a very few that includes very few members of our community, but we want to protect them all."
The bottomline, the governor said she is concerned the student population is vulnerable to the risk of infection because students, aged 5- to 11-years-old, are not eligible to receive vaccination. She highlighted that these make up the largest part of the unvaccinated population.
With the suspension of in-person instruction at compulsory schools in place for at least another week, the governor shared the efforts in the community aimed at protecting students in school.
Vaccination, booster shots, testing and infusion treatment therapy are part of the governor and the Medical Advisory team’s plan to protect the island’s youth and the community as a whole.
Guam leads the curve nationally, in mandating all executive line agency employees to vaccinate against COVID-19. The governor’s stance on mandatory vaccination was echoed by President Joe Biden’s latest executive orders requiring COVID-19 vaccination or weekly testing for federal employees, contractors, health care workers and most employers.
Executive line agency employees were given until Sept. 24 to comply with the vaccination mandate. To date, nearly 80% of GDOE teachers and school-based staff are fully vaccinated. As a community, roughly 88% of the island's population, ages 12 and older, are vaccinated.
During a GDOE COVID-19 input session with parents on Saturday, a participant questioned whether students 12 and older, will at some point be required to vaccinate, like school districts in Los Angelos have done.
The governor pushed vaccination as the best line of defense, but, said vaccination mandates relative to children, is a call for the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention to make, similar to TB tests or immunizations children are required to take to attend school.
On Friday, during the teacher and staff COVID-19 input session, Dr. Mike Cruz said in addition to the vaccination effort is an aggressive plan for booster shots.
The plan will target those who are six to eight months out from the date of their initial shots.
"We know there’s significant amounts of waning immunity with some of the mRNA vaccines, like Pfizer and Moderna," he said.
FDA approval of the booster shots is expected soon. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden's chief medical advisor, has stated that booster shots will be ready to roll once approved.
To assist in the vaccination effort, Public Health Director Art San Agustin said a request was sent to FEMA for the support of 20 vaccinators.
While Public Health doesn't know exactly when the team will arrive, San Agustin said, a plan is in place to shift manpower to accommodate the increased need for vaccines.
“We will be shifting our nurses who know the island to other sites like home based, individuals with disabilities and our seniors and will work to include community centers in that plan,” he said.
Infusion therapy for positive patients to help mitigate the severity of the illness is in place, Cruz said. However, San Agustin said, supplies are limited.
“We’re certainly pushing for those that are unvaccinated and ... when we get the amount of supply that we’re hoping to get, we want to start using it for post-exposure,” San Agustin said.
Consideration for the infusion treatment will be made for anyone that’s in close contact post exposure, recognizing that vaccinated individuals can also be infected.
“Yes, people are getting positive and being hospitalized, but if you are not vaccinated, you will have a 30% higher risk of hospitalization than those vaccinated,” the governor said.