More NMI business shutdowns, public schools aim to reopen

During a Sept. 1 press conference, David Maratita, director of the Northern Mariana Islands Department of Finance’s Alcoholic Beverage and Tobacco Control Division, provided updates regarding business inspections to ensure compliance of Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres’ COVID-19 Emergency Directives.

“We have inspected a total of 245 [establishments] … we have 154 compliant establishments — that’s a total of 63%. Out of these inspections, we have 35% that are non-compliant with the directives, which is about 85 establishments,” said Maratita.

Two additional businesses in Saipan — Kagman Cool Laundry and Cheers Karaoke Bar — have been shut down for non-compliance.

“The [laundromat’s] violation … apparently the laundromat was left unattended; there’s nobody there to maintain crowd control and also to regularly and frequently sanitize the premises,” said Maratita. “For the bar, there was overcrowding at the bar area. There’s no maintenance of crowd control and not maintaining social distancing. So those are the infractions that led to their shutdown.”

Cheers Karaoke also had an “incomplete logbook” when officials attempted to use it for contact tracing, which Maratita said was another reason for the temporary closure.

“Those people that are listing their names down in the log book are not actually listing their real names …We cannot condone that kind of business acumen of the premises; we cannot do the actual contact tracing if there is a positive case within that establishment.”

Maratita also said “what needs to happen” within the next two weeks is a reduction of non-compliant businesses that were issued a warning from the division.

Some examples of violations included the lack of Plexiglass, or acrylic dividers and shields, at some businesses.

“Other infractions [include] the entrance, main entrance and exit flow signs are already deteriorated and they’re not being upgraded. … Some of them are lack of regularly and frequently sanitizing the door handles and shopping bags and carts, and all of those that are in the directives,” Maratita told the Journal. “So, within those 35%, their infractions, they vary. And we do have those noted down for the second visit — whether they’re going to heed those warnings.”

Businesses will be inspected for a second time at a later date by the division and COVID-19 task force, according to Maratita.

Two gaming-related businesses — Saipan Vegas Resort and Club 88 — were also temporarily closed down during the weekend.

Maratita cited the reasons for the temporary closures, not shutdowns, were instructed by Warren Villagomez, chairman of the COVID-19 task force, due to “some issues that involve the directive” that are being addressed.

The governor’s directives prohibit gaming establishments from opening to the public “except if authorized to operate under an approved reopening plan” by the COVID-19 task force and the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. 

“We are not out there to hurt the business community,” said Maratita. “We want to inform everyone out there … we’re doing this for the safety of everyone. We need to do this as a community effort and just make sure that we don’t leave our guards down.”

Alfred Ada, commissioner of education of the NMI Public School System, said all schools and campus facilities are in the “deep cleaning and sanitizing” process to prepare for the Sept. 8 reopening date.

“Because we’re preparing to reopen and that’s next week already, most of our PSS teachers, staff and principals … they really need your blessing, [COVID-19] task force, because the things that we’re doing has come to a stop,” said Ada.

Examples provided by Ada were a proposed orientation, with limited groups of families and students, on campus to show how to use the Blackboard online platform, as well as registration.

According to Ada, PSS teachers completed the month-long training for the Blackboard online platform last week and are currently undergoing virtual training for healing-centered learning with an aim to “ease anxiety and fear” to ensure the continuity of teaching and learning.

Additionally, distribution of learning packets and meal cards for students is set for this week and next week.


United kills change fee; furloughs loom

United Airlines announced Aug. 31 it is “permanently getting rid of change fees on all standard Economy and Premium cabin tickets for travel within the U.S. effective immediately.” The carrier also said beginning Jan. 1, “any United customer can fly standby for free on a flight departing the day of their travel, regardless of the type of ticket or class of service … while MileagePlus Premier members can confirm a seat on a different flight on the same day with the same departure and arrival cities as their original ticket if a seat in the same ticket fare class is available.” United is also extending its waiver for new tickets issued through Dec. 31, “to permit unlimited changes with no fee.” This policy applies to all ticket types issued after March 3 and is valid for domestic and international travel.

The airline said it is the first U.S. airline to remove the unpopular change fee. Other airlines are expected to also do so, according to aviation industry reports.

As to furloughs, U.S. based media are carrying reports that the airline will furlough 2,800 pilots after Oct. 1 in its next round of furloughs, unless more federal aid for the airline is forthcoming. This may also affect pilots based in Guam, according to Journal sources.

The Air Line Pilots Association International on July 16 announced agreements with United on “voluntary furlough and company leave of absence programs, as well as a voluntary separation leave initiative.” Full terms of the agreements were sent to United pilots,” the union said. At that point, the union said 2,250 pilots were at risk of furlough.

According to Journal files, the airline cut 12 pilots from its Guam-based cohort at the end of May. They were asked to retire or move to other destinations.

The Journal was told by sources at the time that the job losses in May were to affect about 4,400 pilots across United.  The airline also reduced hours for about 15,000 airport and baggage employees. The reduction in hours was to 30 hours per week from May 24.

Other airlines have also introduced furloughs and other arrangements.

In other local United news, Guam Sports Events Inc., United Airlines, and the “2020 United Airlines Guam Marathon partners” announced Aug.31, that they will be extending the deadline by a week to complete the #UGM2020 Goes Virtual races from Sept. 5 through Sept. 20.

The #UGM2020 Goes Virtual event added 251 new registrants in July and August for the virtual run. With registration now closed there are a total of 2,715 registrants for the 2020 event.


Guam USIS office closed

The Guam Office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service will remain closed until Sept. 4, following Stay at Home restrictions announced by Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero, according to an Aug. 28 release.

USCIS will re-schedule appointments “in the near future,” the release said, but will continue to provide “limited emergency” services.


Info on positive cases in Guam trickles in

As of Aug. 31 – when the Joint Information Center reported an additional 48 positive tests, there have been a total of 1,395 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 10 deaths, 533 not in isolation, and 852 cases in active isolation. Of those cases, 1,183 are classified as civilians (residents) and 212 are U.S. military members, according to an Aug. 31 release.

From Aug. 28 to 30, a total of 108 cases of COVID-19 were reported to the Guam Department of Health and Social Services, of which 66 new cases were reported on Aug. 28, 39 new cases were reported on Aug. 29, and three new cases were reported on Aug. 30. These results are inclusive of the 60 cases previously reported by the Joint Information Center on Saturday, Aug. 29. 

The Guam Department of Education, Guam Memorial Hospital and the Port Authority of Guam all have had positive cases.

DPHSS previously told the Journal it is aiming ahead to return results within 48 to 36 hours.  

The Northern Mariana Islands currently has recorded 54 positive cases, with two deaths.


Palau and Esper visit updates

The Office of the President of Palau issued a statement regarding the coverage by CNN, that the trip scheduler reportedly traveling with Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper was part of an advance team for the secretary’s trip to Guam. The individual never came to Palau, nor was in contact with U.S. officials that went to Palau, according to the president’s office.

The Journal’s coverage of the staffer was also based largely on the CNN story, plus a statement from the Pentagon regarding testing of all officials before leaving for Hawaii and Guam. The paper regrets any confusion or distress that its coverage may have caused. Joint Region Marianas subsequently declined to confirm if the staffer in question was quarantined in Guam and referred the paper to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Esper and his party did wear masks in public while in Palau, except when Esper addressed media before his departure to Guam, as the paper earlier reported.

Meetings between Esper and Defense Minister Taro Kono of Japan took place at Andersen Air Force Base on Aug. 29. Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero also met with Esper at a meeting hosted by Joint Region Marianas. According to a release from her office, Leon Guerrero and Esper discussed a variety of topics, which included improvements at ship repair facilities in Guam, the island’s H-2B labor restrictions, support of needed H-2B workers and the return of land for a new hospital. mbj