Possible lifting of mask requirement, 100% occupancy weighed

VACANT: Bus shelters such as this one in the Pleasure Island area in Tumon are left vacant without tour buses operating in the area. Dontana Keraskes/The Guam Daily Post

The possibility of allowing businesses to operate at 100% occupancy and lifting the mask requirement is part of ongoing discussions leading up to July 21, Dr. Michael Cruz, the governor's chief medical adviser, confirmed Friday.

During the meeting among members of the Governor's Recovery Task Force, tourism officials asked Cruz whether businesses could return to 100% occupancy or could stop requiring masks, among other things, when Guam reaches 80% herd immunity by July 21.

Cruz, who's also the state surgeon of the Guam Army National Guard, said these are part of the ongoing discussion among the governor's medical advisers.

The target of the governor's Operation: Liberate Guam is to fully vaccinate some 96,000 individuals by July 21. That's 80% of Guam's population that is 18 years or older, the governor's medical adviser said.

As of Thursday, 85,912 had been fully vaccinated, according to the Joint Information Center.

That means 10,000 more residents need to be fully vaccinated to reach the 80% herd immunity goal.

To encourage more vaccination, the government launched the Vax N' Win program with nearly 32,000 entries as of Friday morning.

The first raffle drawing will be on June 16, with a new car and $10,000 cash among 10 or so prizes to be given away that day, Guam Visitors Bureau officials said.

Vaccination travel packages

Guam hotels and tour operators are proposing to offer travel packages for three to 32 days for American expatriates coming to Guam for COVID-19 vaccination and vacation, tourism officials also said at Friday's meeting of the task force.

A key part of the proposed packages is free COVID-19 vaccination on the second day of arrival.

Under Guam's Air V&V, or vaccination and vacation, program's proposed protocols, expats will be staying at self-paid hotels approved by the Department of Public Health and Social Services.

If an expat opts for the single-dose Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine, then the visitor could choose to leave Guam on the third day.

The Guam Visitors Bureau, however, anticipates that most expats will choose to get the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, so they could vacation on Guam for up to 32 days.

Program under review

As of Friday, however, the Guam Air V&V program's proposed protocols, including those from hotels, were still under Public Health review, tourism officials said.

Without Public Health's final approval, no travel package can be booked yet, Nadine Leon Guerrero, director of global marketing for GVB, said in response to a task force member's query.

"Looking at what could happen, the shortest stay could be three days. The longest stay could be about 32 to 33 days, depending upon the type of vaccine and, of course, their desire to stay on the island," Nadine Leon Guerrero said.

There also have been preparations in case people decide to fly in to get the first dose, and then fly out and come back for the second dose.

Because the mandatory quarantine is only seven to 10 days, expats could already be enjoying Guam's beaches and other attractions while waiting for their second dose 21 or 28 days later.

Nadine Leon Guerrero gave more details of Guam Air V&V proposed packages, arrival protocols and responsibilities of the travelers, including:

  • Public Health needs to approve the participating hotels' protocols similar to what was implemented when hotels hosted personnel from the USS Theodore Roosevelt in 2020;
  • Passenger processing will continue to take place at the airport;
  • A hotel or travel agent will be responsible for transportation from the airport to the hotel, at the traveler's cost;
  • Public Health will give clinics administering the shots to expats access to the Sara Alert for symptom monitoring;
  • Prior to arrival on Guam, a traveler or expat needs to select from one of the available Air V&V packages;
  • Prior to arrival, the traveler must get a COVID-19 test to board the plane per U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention policy, no more than 72 hours prior to arrival;
  • Prior to coming to Guam, the traveler must book a vaccination appointment and choose the type of vaccine; and
  • A hotel/tour operator chosen by the traveler will facilitate the traveler's vaccination, and in securing Guam vaccination documentation.

Absent the Air V&V approved protocols, American expats can continue to enter Guam and stay free of charge at quarantine hotels. The government pays for the hotel quarantine and meals using federal pandemic relief funds.

At present, expats have to wait for day seven or day 10 to get vaccinated.

American expats started arriving on Guam around April to get U.S. Food and Drug Administration-authorized COVID-19 vaccines, after the slow vaccine rollout in their host countries and with no guarantee they could get one.

GVB and other tourism partners are pushing for the expansion of the Air V&V program to include non-American travelers.

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has started communicating with the White House to see whether the federal government can increase the number of vaccine doses for Guam to accommodate non-Americans.

If this is approved, then Air V&V's market would expand tremendously since a number of Asian countries still don't have robust vaccination numbers and their residents could try to get them on Guam, GVB officials said.

At present, travelers who aren't fully vaccinated are required to quarantine upon entry to Guam. Those fully vaccinated with Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccines can skip quarantine.

GVB formally asked the governor and Public Health to allow others to skip quarantine, particularly those who could show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arrival. As of Friday, there's no decision on the GVB request.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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