Expert: Failure to wear masks, keep a distance caused recent spike

INSTRUCTIONS: A resident is given instructions by Department of Public Health and Social Services staff before COVID-19 testing at a community outreach July 23 at the Asan Mayor's Office. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

Monday’s six new COVID-19 cases were confirmed after the Department of Public Health and Social Services and its health partners tested samples from 714 people.

The additional cases raises Guam's total to 418. There have been more than 25,000 tests conducted since March, which results in a 1.6% infection rate, according to the DPHSS website.

Five people are hospitalized at the Guam Memorial Hospital. One person was scheduled to be discharged Monday, three are in stable condition and the fifth person is in the intensive care unit and requires the use of a ventilator, said Lillian Perez-Posadas, GMHA chief executive officer.

The tests reported on Monday were conducted at:

• DPHSS: 303 people

• Naval Hospital Guam: 155

• Diagnostic Laboratory Services: 142

• Guam Memorial Hospital: 69

• Guam Regional Medical City: 45

This is the second week in a row that Naval Hospital, which works with the Naval Health Research Center, tested more than 100 people. Last week, the Navy hospital tested 255 people. The Guam Daily Post asked Joint Region Marianas and Naval Hospital officials last week and again on Monday if they are conducting mass screenings. There has not been a response to either query as of press time Monday.

Not following guidelines

Last week, Guam saw 53 new cases.

DPHSS officials said the spike in cases is coming from the government’s quarantine facility and from “people who did not adhere to our public health guidelines such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.”

The governor announced last week that bars would be closed for two weeks, and funerals would be limited to 25 family members. Wakes are not allowed.

DPHSS’s Dr. Ann Pobutsky said the recent restrictions were placed “because people have been acting as if the pandemic was over and they were not at risk.”

When asked about the increase in cases and whether this could be considered Guam’s second wave, the territorial epidemiologist responded:

“There is an increase in cases, but we are working to limit transmission of COVID-19 by finding linkages between cases and working to prevent further spread. The DPHSS was able to find numerous COVID-19 cases at the quarantine facility, which illustrates that the quarantine works,” Pobutsky said.

“However, now people should be aware that the increased number of recent locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 is due to people not following rules for social distancing and mask wearing, as well as having or attending large social or family gatherings.”

Pobutsky also notes that the DPHSS’ contact tracing team has been working to investigate the household, community and travel activities of every person who has tested positive to identify anyone in Guam who may have been in close contact with the cases.

“They will be assessed for their exposure risk and provided with guidance for their health and recommendations for self-isolation or other restrictions,” she said.

Percentage of positive tests

With Guam’s rate of infection, or percentage of positive tests, having remained relatively low - less than 2% in comparison to the national average of 8% - Pobutsky said the rate is one way of understanding whether the “growth in COVID-19 cases on Guam is due solely to increased testing.”

“When coronavirus tests were in short supply in early March and April 2020, we were testing people with symptoms or individuals at risk (elderly people and people with chronic conditions),” she said. “But as more tests became available in May through July 2020, those with mild or no symptoms — who were less likely to have COVID-19 — were able to get (tested), which would lead to a lower positivity rate if the virus were not spreading,” she said.

Pobutsky noted, “The mass testing in the community ended up testing more than 6,800 individuals, but only 42 tested positive – less than 0.001% of the population – and most of these 42 people were sent to be tested at the mass screening sites because they had contact with a known positive case. There are going to be more positive cases uncovered if the virus is spreading in the community, and this is what we have seen recently, in the past couple of weeks.”

Remain diligent, officials ask

According to the Joint Information Center update, people in their 20s have the highest COVID-19 positive numbers at 86. They’re followed by people in their 30s, then 40s, which show 75 and 72 cases, respectively.

Pobutsky said for most people, the novel coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough.

For some people, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

“The vast majority of people recover,” she said.

Nevertheless, she and other officials continue to urge residents “to remain diligent in following public health guidelines, such as wearing masks in public, social distancing and refraining from holding or attending any large social or family gatherings.”

Person-to-person spread of the virus occurs mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Take these everyday preventive actions to help stop the spread of germs:

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

• Stay home when you are sick.

• Cover your cough or sneeze with your arm or a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

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