Tourism reopening delayed

SPARSELY VISITED: A couple walk down the Pleasure Island area of Tumon Thursday. The once-bustling area for tourism remains sparsely visited as the island's tourism reopening has been pushed back. David Castro/the Guam Daily Post

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero delayed Guam's tourism reopening by two weeks, or until May 15, with a plan to implement a shorter quarantine period or exempt most fully vaccinated travelers from quarantine by then.

For arriving travelers who have not been fully vaccinated, they will still be required to undergo government quarantine for up to 10 days instead of the current 14 days, in accordance with recommendations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CDC still recommends that those coming from international trips need a negative PCR test result up to three days prior to entry to the United States, including Guam.

More than 64,000 so far have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 on Guam, exceeding the 62,500, or 50%, of the adult population that the governor aimed for by the initial goal to reopen tourism by May 1.

The governor said she had to delay tourism's reopening for two weeks because of the "recent clusters, recent cases caught in quarantine, and increase in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations," although the prevalence of the disease still is much lower than it was last year.

"This decision was based on science and medical advice, and we cannot rush our recovery only to undo all the progress we have made," Leon Guerrero said in a press conference Friday afternoon.

Shortly after that, the governor extended the COVID-19 public health state of emergency by another 30 days, or up to May 31.

The extension of the public health emergency authorizes, among other items:

• Payment of overtime for GovGuam personnel; and

• The adjutant general of the Guam National Guard to issue additional active-duty orders for the mobilization of National Guard personnel "to continue essential public services."

Quarantine exemption

Tourism's delayed reopening allows the government to work on "shortening the quarantine time for our travelers and also having (a) meaningful pathway for quarantine exemption," Public Health Director Art San Agustin said.

"Our local situation coupled with international implications and the impact to Guam is cause to pause at this time," he said.

Five COVID-19 patients are now in the hospital, and "one of them is in the ICU on a ventilator," said Dr. Felix Cabrera, chief medical officer for the Department of Public Health and Social Services.

Guam has not had a COVID-19 patient in ICU on a ventilator for a long time, he said. 

About 381 individuals who may have been associated with the two recent clusters at A-Class Lounge and The Tsubaki Tower have yet to be tested, said Chima Mbakwem, acting chief public health officer with Public Health.

Of 1,957 individuals tested over the past seven days, 1,927 tested negative, he said.

Change in quarantine protocols

The two-week delay in the tourism reopening will also give the government and the public time to review Public Health's proposed "adjusted reopening plan," the governor and Cabrera added.

"We can announce that as part of our adjusted reopening plan, proof of vaccination will be a cornerstone of being able to avoid quarantine," the governor said.

Cabrera said the proposed transition in traveler quarantine into Guam is based on three criteria:

  • Reaching 50% adult full vaccination, which was achieved.
  • COVID-19 hospitalization of less than 10 patients. Guam has five right now.
  • COVID-19 deaths should be below five in a 14-day span. Guam has seen zero COVID-19 fatalities for weeks.

"These are our criteria for consideration and subject to change any time, so it's not set in stone," Cabrera said.

The island's COVID-19 Area Risk Score is at 0.7, despite the clusters, and is still below the 2.5 that could further delay the reopening of tourism.

For those entering Guam, here are the considerations to have shorter quarantine or no quarantine at all, if visitors or returnees have negative PCR test results up to 72 hours before travel:

  • Should be fully vaccinated with U.S. Food and Drug Administration-authorized vaccines.
  • The vaccination should be immediately verifiable. Fully vaccinated individuals need to show a CDC COVID-19 vaccination record card and one of these two other records: A vaccinating health authority record, such as from the Guam DPHSS, or a vaccinating provider record such as a private doctor's clinic or pharmacy.

Cabrera said Public Health will release more information about how those records can be obtained at no cost to travelers. These documents need to be with travelers prior to their travel.

Presentation of fraudulent vaccination records is punishable by law and is subject to fines, Cabrera said.

"If you can be immediately verified, then at that point, there is no further quarantine required," Cabrera said. "You can leave the airport or the port of entry. However, you must fully comply with symptom monitoring for up to 14 days via the Sara Alert ... We highly encourage you to download the Guam COVID app."

Those who have not been fully vaccinated will be placed in the government quarantine facility.

Once in the quarantine facility, a person can be tested on the sixth day of arrival and be released after the seventh day – if the test result is negative.

"We will be adopting CDC recommendations for length of quarantine. If you are tested on day six, then you are released after day seven and you won't be transferred to home quarantine because you will be done with quarantine at that point," Cabrera said.

But travelers still need to comply with the 14-day Sara Alert monitoring.

"If you refuse testing or if testing is not available for whatever reason, then you will complete a 10-day ... quarantine, not 14," Cabrera said.

This will also mirror the procedures for community exposure to COVID-19, he said.

'Get vaccinated'

The governor and the Public Health director continue to urge residents at least 16 years old to be fully vaccinated, and for members of the community to continue to wear masks, maintain social distancing and sanitize their hands frequently.

After achieving 50% full vaccination among adults ahead of May 1, the governor's next goal is to fully vaccinate 80%, or 100,000 people, by July 21 to achieve herd immunity. 

The governor said Guam is on track to reach 80% full immunization among adults by the time Guam marks the 77th anniversary of Guam's liberation from Japanese occupation during World War II.

Other investigations

Mbakwem said Public Health continues to investigate the two recently identified COVID-19 clusters, as well as the case of the two Guam Memorial Hospital doctors who recently traveled to India and tested positive for COVID-19.

The department also is investigating COVID-19 cases involving three public schools.

"These are identified as household contacts but they're also students in some schools. We're working with GDOE in this case, investigating and contact tracing," Mbakwem said. "As of now, there is no reason for us to worry about any new positives or any close contacts because the individuals were identified and quarantined way before they were tested."

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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