When COVID-19 first made headlines around the globe in January, the respiratory illness was a distant concern.
A press release from the Guam Homeland Security/Office of Civil Defense noted: “At this time, Guam is considered to be at low risk from the virus … Also, there are no direct flights from Wuhan City, China to Guam.”
By Dec. 31, 2020, the virus would infect 7,317 Guamanians - roughly 4.4% of the island's population. Two of the most notable cases would be Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio and Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero who had some choice words about the virus.
Government officials also have linked 122 deaths - primarily people with comorbidities such as diabetes or heart problems - to the novel coronavirus.
But out of these would also come works of compassion for others, from organizations donating meals to hospital workers, or those in need, or efforts such as Savvy Diaz’s Roy Anthony Muna Project, which is named in honor of her father who was the island’s 82nd COVID-19-related fatality.
These efforts were a part of the island’s journey in 2020 as the novel coronavirus infected thousands and threatened the lives of thousands.
In January, Department of Public Health and Social Services officials said they had been “warned about it” – "it" being a new virus that caused a pneumonia-like illness in, at that point, people living in China. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was monitoring it closely.
Local officials at the time were concerned about the economic impact. The novel coronavirus was likened to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS-CoV) which struck Asia hard several years ago; SARS didn’t reach Guam but dealt a blow to the island’s tourism-centered economy.
In March, officials reported the first possible patients with the novel coronavirus. On March 22, the government would link the death of a 68-year-old woman who had other existing health conditions to COVID-19, now designated the name “SARS-CoV-2.” By April 11, there would be four more deaths linked to the coronavirus.
Then came the news that sons and daughters of the nation aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt had fallen ill. The carrier docked at Naval Base Guam and military and local officials worked to quarantine sailors and provide care for those who’d been infected. Unfortunately, one of those sailors died.
This virus is a B
For a couple of months, the island saw a plateau in new COVID-19 cases and there were few if any patients at local hospitals and the Skilled Nursing Facility in Barrigada Heights.
Then in August, the island took a turn for the worse. COVID-19 cases started increasing - some days had more than 100 new cases. And after months without a death, the sixth fatality linked to the virus was announced, a 70-year-old man was pronounced dead on arrival at the Guam Memorial Hospital.
On Aug. 10, came an announcement that caused much concern: Adelup announced that Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero caught the novel coronavirus and had moderate symptoms. Adelup reported that it was a family member who was first infected and passed it to the governor.
On Aug. 12, Adelup announced that Lt. Gov. Joshua Tenorio also caught the virus - though he, too, showed moderate symptoms. The governor announced that she was doing better and would be able to work out of her home.
As she recovered, the governor talked about her symptoms, saying on Wednesday she stands by her previous statement that “this virus is a B*$#@!”
Unfortunately, the wave of positive cases and fatalities continued through November. And as the increase in new positive cases seemed to slow, even through the Christmas holidays, with positivity rates as low as 2.9%, the island remains in Pandemic Condition of Readiness 1.
Praising the Lord
In December, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved for emergency use the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
Guam received its first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 14 and the vaccination of health care front liners started at Okkodo High School.
Phase 1A of Public Health’s vaccination program included doctors, nurses and others who work with patients, as well as senior citizens living in group settings such as St. Dominics Senior Care Home. Phase 1B, which includes senior citizens ages 75 and older, started Dec. 28.
The Dededo school’s gym and cafeteria were transformed into a makeshift mass immunization clinic. The vaccine has become a glimmer of hope for many and while there continues to be some hesitation about the long-term safety of the vaccinations, senior citizens, who are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19, are among the most eager to be immunized.
DPHSS spokeswoman Janela Carrera noted that many of those who went to Okkodo said, "they want to be able to leave their homes, hug their grandchildren, see their families, play bingo."
By Dec. 30, nearly 2,000 senior citizens had been vaccinated. Among those who went to Okkodo on Day 1 was Martina Mandapat, a Barrigada resident who, with the vaccine, was looking forward to celebrating her birthday in January with her family.
“I’ll be 94 next month,” she shared. “Praise the Lord.”