BY MAUREEN N. MARATITA
The Journal had the opportunity to sit down (virtually) on May 5 with Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero.
Journal: A DFS survey is predicting that if we don’t require testing for tourists, arrivals will be 7% of normal for July and 15% of normal for August. Will we require testing of tourists?
Leon Guerrero: I think we have to wait. If we still feel comfortable, given whatever the status is of our community spread at the time that we are deciding to risk the quarantine — if we feel comfortable taking that risk, then I’m okay not testing them.
If we don’t feel comfortable, and we don’t think that is the best way to go — and we can talk to the medical people, because they’re going to be the ones that I would rely on for the decision — and the person really that is going to be looking at it more is Dr. Thane Hancock [from the U.S. Public Health Service]. He’s the epidemiologist.
… If we don’t do testing, I think we should do some triage at least like thermal scanning, surveying and maybe have some nurses still to also triage and monitor them.
This is my biggest challenge in terms of when we lift the quarantine … How do I balance out the risk of the quarantine and the risk of our community spread. How do I balance that out?
Am I willing to risk it and say, “What if I don’t test them and just let them in?” They’re only here for three days but they’re still going to be interacting with local people.
Some of the suggestions from the tourist industry is … we don’t allow them to rent a car and go round the island. They’re not going to come; that’s one thing they like to do when they come. I’m going to be discussing it with the business community and I’ll look to the medical community for more guidance on this.
Journal: If tourism were to stay at 10% of prior figures, what would that mean to the GovGuam budget? Are we looking at payless paydays?
Leon Guerrero: No. I don’t think we will, because of the coronavirus funds that have been given. I think we can maintain our employees. If they do override the veto [of Sen. Telena Nelson’s bill] where she has people being paid double their salary plus hazardous pay — I will not be able to afford it. That’s why I vetoed it. That’s much more of a risk for me than the tourist part.
Journal: But our revenues are going to be lower.
Leon Guerrero: Our revenues are going to be impacted; by how much I don’t know. What I’d like to see is April’s number, because April’s number is the full month where we were affected by the coronavirus. It’s the first month where we didn’t have tourists. Let me qualify that, because the hotels were full as a result of the sailors. There’s still hotel occupancy there and because we didn’t close all the businesses; we still had Home Depot, Kmart, the grocery stores. There’s still those businesses that were able to provide services. We will get GRT from them.
… With this Cares Act direct money to the governor — that can help us out.
Journal: You wouldn’t consider even a modest reduction in pay for non-essential employees?
Leon Guerrero: If we can keep people employed — they’re the ones that will be having the income; they’re the ones that will be going out there and putting money into our economy. If I can still continue paying employees of the government, I will continue paying the employees of the government. I think within the next two to three weeks we’ll probably have most of them back to work.
Journal: Were you aware that the IRS has put out an advisory note about the PPP program? It puts a tax burden on the supposed emergency assistance.
Leon Guerrero: I do know that Trump has said he’s looking at a credit for payroll taxes. I did hear that.
Journal: If you’re looking at up to ten people being able to gather, would you also consider the golf courses opening?
Leon Guerrero: I will not. Only because if I say, ‘Okay golf courses you can open, already the Tennis Federation is asking me, the basketball people will be asking me, the baseball people will be asking me, the soccer people will be asking me. I’m telling the golf people, ‘Just hold on for another week … because we’re going to see how people behave and we’re going to measure their behavior by testing and contact tracing … we’re going to lift [restrictions] again.
Journal: We will have hair salons and nail salons open.
Governor: The risk there is very minimal. They put in their plan and what they’re saying is they’re only going to take appointments and they’re not going to have people wait in the waiting room. If the hairdresser is not ready, the person has to wait outside. Of course they’re going to be masked and of course they’re going to be gloved.
Journal: Given the proximity at which stylists and manicurists work, wouldn’t we be safer in a restaurant?
Leon Guerrero: With the restaurants, I’m not allowing in-dining. … Most of the restaurant owners are okay with it. If we lift the restaurant restrictions for the restaurants, we’re going to restrict their occupancy. We’re going to say you can only have 25%, or 50% and they don’t know if they want to bring in more people and increase their overheads and still not be able to make their plan. They would rather continue with the takeout and deliveries, because that’s very, very low overheads for them. Also people are going to be reluctant going to restaurants. Maybe when … they’re much more used to going out, they’ll feel more comfortable.
Journal: When you will reopen tourism and let our markets know? We need at least a month’s notice for visitors to book vacations.
Leon Guerrero: They said they need 45 days planning. I’m looking at May 11 to lift restrictions. Then we go into PCOR 2. Then we wait for 28 days; then we look at that data; then we go into PCOR 3. I am not going to wait for the whole 28 days. I’m going to see how people are behaving. If they’re not wearing their masks and they’re not social distancing — that’s going to be a problem.
One I start seeing more positive cases again, I may have to go back and institute more of the restrictions. Maybe by the end of May … I can say … I’m planning to lift it in July.
Journal: Is there anything you plan to help small businesses?
Leon Guerrero: We just did our budget for the $117 million. I put $20 million of that $117 million into economic business support. It’s going to being to GEDA. GEDA is making plans on how they’re going to use that money. It’s probably all going to be grants to small business, whether we give them $10,000 or $20,000. But they are taking advantage of the PPP program. We just heard there are about 1,700 businesses that have been approved. It’s about $185 million worth of loans and also about 17,000 employees that will be able to have their jobs back.
Journal: Some of them are not going to want to go back. If you’re a tourism worker, you’re making about $400 a week versus $945 a week [unemployment].
Leon Guerrero: There are conditions in the program. … Every week the Department of Labor has to certify these people that are getting the benefit. … The employers have to send them a report on who they have hired back, have they offered a job to and they refused the job. If that’s the case these people will not be certified.
Journal: In any given year there are 3,000 to 3,200 legal businesses on Guam. Do you think that the $20 million will stretch to every small business that needs it?
Leon Guerrero: I think so. And if we need more, we can always reshuffle money in the budget allocation. This money was given to the governors, solely for their discretion. mbj