DPHSS urges public to 'spread the love, not the virus' on Thanksgiving

THANKSGIVING. A sign from Raising Cane's in the food court of Micronesia Mall greets residents ahead of Thanksgiving Day. The Department of Public Health and Social Services urges residents to maintain COVID-19 hygiene to help prevent a holiday surge in cases. Vanessa Wills/The Guam Daily Post

As families and friends gather at the Thanksgiving table today, local health officials urge everyone to serve up some extra precautions to prevent a new surge of COVID-19 heading into Christmas.

The United States is once again seeing an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, at about 30%, days before Thanksgiving.

When there's an increase in cases in the U.S., the same trend is seen in Guam and Hawaii "within weeks" so a possibility of a post-Thanksgiving or a holiday surge is a "concern," said Dr. Robert Leon Guerrero, interim chief medical officer for the Department of Public Health and Social Services. 

That's why DPHSS officials, during a COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday, emphasized the need to observe common sense practices and DPHSS guidance such as wearing a mask, maintaining social distance, and frequently washing hands during Thanksgiving and beyond.

Guam has just emerged from a surge that saw up to 300-plus new cases a day and dozens of dead-on-arrival cases. 

DPHSS officials also pushed for vaccination for those at least 5 years old, and booster shots for those at least 18 years old, as an added layer of protection.

For those who are not feeling well, stay home, DPHSS officials said.

"I know you want to enjoy that family time but ... you want to spread the love, not the virus, so just ask the family, please balutan (boxed meal) a turkey dinner ... or lunch," DPHSS Bureau of Communicable Disease Control Administrator Annette Aguon said.

Guam's COVID-19 cases and hospitalization rates have been steadily decreasing. On Wednesday, the Joint Information Center reported 20 new cases out of 936 tests conducted the previous day. The COVID-19 area risk score is at 1.3.

As of Wednesday morning, hospitalization was at single-digit at the Guam Memorial Hospital and Guam Regional Medical City, at six each, according to the governor's director of communications, Krystal Paco-San Agustin. For weeks, dozens were at hospitals for COVID-19.

'Maintain this gift'

Guam's public health emergency, which started in March 2020, has been extended to Dec. 30, 2021, based on Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero's Wednesday executive order.

The same executive order declares Nov. 26, or Black Friday, a government of Guam holiday.

"In the last couple of weeks, you’ve seen what we’ve been through as an island, fighting together to get out of this surge. This is a good Thanksgiving gift and I think what we can do is continue to maintain this gift for Thanksgiving and make sure throughout the holiday period," said Chima Mbakwem, chief public health officer for DPHSS.

Guam's COVID-19-related deaths since March 2020 reached 263. 

Vaccinations and social gathering limits

More than 125,000 vaccine-eligible residents, or those at least 5 years old, have been fully vaccinated, out of an estimated total population of nearly 154,000.

Booster shots have also been administered to more than 24,000 adults 18 years old and older, because of waning immunity after several months.

"Vaccinate not just for yourself but also for your loved ones and those who can't get it either because of their age or they have a medical condition," Aguon said.

COVID-19 vaccination and testing continue on Black Friday, DPHSS officials said.

Esther Figir, Division of Environmental Health customer service supervisor, reminded the public about the social gathering limitations of 25 people indoors and 75 outdoors.

"We do continue to do COVID inspections and just want to remind people to maintain COVID hygiene and observe current guidance," she said.

Non-COVID-related

DPHSS' Leon Guerrero also called on the public to visit their providers or clinics for a follow up check on their non-COVID-19-related conditions.

"Unfortunately we’re having a lot of children that are not fully immunized against other communicable diseases because parents just don’t bring them in because, again, they are trying to avoid (COVID-19)," Leon Guerrero said.

Medical facilities are open, he said, so people not showing up for routine checkups until it's too late are adding to Guam's mortality and morbidity counts.

Meanwhile, Mbakwen said the last time DPHSS sent specimen samples to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for genome sequencing was Oct. 14.

As of Wednesday, DPHSS had yet to receive the results which, among other things, would indicate COVID-19 variants present on Guam. The virulent delta variant caused a surge on Guam starting in the summer after months of low positivity, hospitalization and death rates.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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