The Department of Public Health and Social Services confirmed Wednesday that most of the recent travel-related COVID-19-positive cases in the government quarantine facility were from the Philippines.
And a number of residents who were vaccinated against COVID-19 still tested positive for the virus that causes the disease, but symptoms were not severe.
A Public Health representative to the Governor's Tourism Reopening Task Force shared this information during their Wednesday meeting.
"If we let these people come in and go straight home, we would have had 23 clusters now on the island. So that's our major concern," DPHSS medical operations chief Chima Mbakwem told fellow task force members.
Guam is poised to reopen tourism if 50% or 62,500 adults are fully vaccinated by May 1, the COVID-19 area risk score remains below 2.5 and the hospitalization rate stays low.
Free COVID-19 testing also continues.
A total of 29 recent travel-related COVID-19 cases have been identified.
Of that number, 23 traveled from the Philippines. They complied with the required negative polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test result no more than 72 hours prior to flying to Guam, but they tested positive during quarantine on Guam.
GVB officials and other task force members raised the issue of whether the more than 10,000 daily new COVID-19 cases in the Philippines should be a concern for Guam, now that its tourism is poised to reopen and post-travel quarantine may be lifted.
Mbakwem said it's a concern for Public Health.
"If you look at our numbers, there’s an increase in Philippine travelers coming to Guam who tested positive. What is scary is that they got the test before they got on the plane," he said, in compliance with CDC recommendations.
Mbakwem said Public Health has been catching a lot of the COVID-19-positive travelers in the quarantine facility.
At the meeting, GVB officials weren't able to get clarification on whether the recent travelers also were considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Philippines has implemented new rounds of lockdowns as new COVID-19 cases have gone up, breaching the 10,000-mark new cases daily. There were also reports of fake PCR tests in the Philippines.
13 new cases
Public Health has counted 13 new cases of COVID-19 out of 530 tests performed on Tuesday, reflecting an increase following recent days with zero to just a few new cases a day.
Three cases were identified through contact tracing. To date, there have been a total of 7,897 officially reported cases of COVID-19 with 136 deaths, 61 cases in active isolation, and 7,700 not in active isolation. Guam's COVID-19 Area Risk Score is 0.8.
Vaccinations working to reduce severity
Mbakwem, responding to GVB officials' questions, also said there's been "a lot" of residents on Guam who tested positive for COVID-19 even after they got their COVID-19 vaccination.
But he emphasized that Guam's hospitalization rate has remained so low, which shows that the vaccination has been working.
Getting fully vaccinated against COVID-19 does not prevent anyone from getting or transmitting the virus - but infections are typically mild or symptom-free among those fully vaccinated.
As of Tuesday, there were three people hospitalized for COVID-19, an increase from one COVID-19 admission to the hospital one day earlier.
Tourism officials said some people may have a "false sense of security," so they stopped observing protocols such as social distancing, wearing masks and frequent sanitizing after they got fully vaccinated.
But overall, Guam's daily rate of new infection has been low, hovering at less than five a day for months now.
3 strategic initiatives
GVB and other agencies in the reopening task force have been ramping up preparations to reopen Guam tourism, which has been upended by pandemic travel restrictions since early 2020.
Gerry Perez, GVB vice president, emphasized the three strategic initiatives to reopen tourism:
- Scaled up vaccinations.
- Preparing the destination
- Ability to strategically communicate the reopening efforts to island residents and the source markets of Japan, Korea and Taiwan.
By the time military and federal vaccination rates are added to the overall tally, Guam will be able to meet its Path to Half goal, he said.
On American soil, Guam's full vaccination rate is among the highest.
The Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association and partners will have another vaccination clinic at Hyatt Regency Guam on April 27, and the 600 slots are already fully booked, GVB officials said.
Another 1,800 will have a chance to get vaccinated at future outreach clinics, which are outside of those held in villages and at the University of Guam Calvo Field House, GVB said.
Instead of paying for tourists' PCR test before returning to their country of origin, GVB is looking at acting as a mere intermediary between tourists and private providers such as American Medical Center or Guam Regional Medical City. In this role, GVB will make sure tourists have immediate and easy access to reliable PCR tests.
Each PCR test costs about $120, they said, which could be costly if GVB had to pay for at least the first few hundred tourists who visit.
The Maldives, an island destination like Guam, plans to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to international visitors as an incentive to reopen travel, once all local residents have been offered a vaccine. GVB officials said Guam will continue to look at what other destinations such as Maldives have been doing to reopen tourism.
Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio's Islandwide Beautification Task Force, in partnership with GVB, is doing a massive cleanup on Saturday, April 24, GVB officials said.
The task force continues to invite volunteers to join the cleanup of beaches and roadways.
GVB's Perez also lauded the Department of Public Works' efforts in addressing dilapidated or abandoned buildings.
The number of businesses that have been approved for the Guam Safe Certification and World Travel and Tourism Council Safe Travels stamp has doubled in about two weeks, from 25 to 55 as of Thursday, GVB's Perez said, out of 75 that so far applied.
This means these participating tourism-related businesses have met world standards for pandemic health and safety protocols.
GVB, with assistance from Public Health, serves as the official organization to issue the certification and stamp to local businesses.