PAC results show variety of numbers
Political action groups in Guam sent out releases prior to the general election approving a list of senatorial candidates.
Here are the results of how many on their list were elected to the 15 senatorial seats:
Guam Association of Realtors 9
Action PAC – comprised of civic organizations 7
Sharon O’Mallan and the Esperanza Project (yes/no on legal abortion) 7
Progressive Democrats 5
As the Journal reported (see www.mbjguam.com), successful senators elected were either incumbents or had previously served as senators.
Numerous groups held virtual forums with candidates. Due to COVID-19, the lack of a primary – and the lack of village pocket meetings as well as community events – which senatorial candidates typically participate in, are presumed to have been factors.
GEDA to aid landlords and discusses UOG and GCC requests
The Guam Economic Development Authority held a special board of directors meeting on Nov. 10 largely to discuss the authority’s COVID-19 grants.
GEDA announced a new grant in the works — the Rental Relief grant program. The program would treat landlords as small businesses, and award a total of two months of rent or $20,000, whichever is lesser.
According to Melanie Mendiola, GEDA’s CEO and administrator, the program has a budget of $5 million, with a target of 500 businesses. She also said that for the previous small business pandemic grant, there were about 219 food and beverage businesses that applied, and this commercial rent relief program includes food and beverage, retail and personal businesses.
The goal is to help those businesses which cannot do work from home.
Home-based businesses and professional services are ineligible for the new grant program.
Mendiola said Gov. Lourdes Leon A. Guerrero has not yet authorized funds for the grant program, but that the board should expedite discussion due to the time crunch of CARES Act funds expiring at the end of the year.
GEDA’s healthcare committee also reported that the University of Guam, the Guam Community College and the Guam Regional Medical City are asking for grant funding to help with caregiver and certified nursing assistant programs. UOG and GCC both requested $30,000 in funding.
The government-of-Guam-approved programs are to become caregivers and certified nursing assistants, temporarily, to help fill a void in Guam’s healthcare system.
The program would include 40 hours of online training, along with online skills training, followed by on-the-job training.
Mendiola said the government is funding the emergency training that is necessary to fill the void, but in January, the on-the-job training will not rollover to a certification. The only hours that count are the 40 online training hours, and 80 more are still required to earn a certification.
NMI preps for vaccine and distribution; eyeing ramifications for tourism
Esther Muna, CEO of the Northern Mariana Islands Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., said that the NMI will be included in initial dispersal of the Pfizer vaccine, which has two initial doses for health workers and front liners, projected for the end of the year. Speaking at a Nov. 10 press conference she said, “The first distribution is around 2,000.” That would be followed by vaccines in the January-February time frame for between 12,000 and 15,000 people aged 15 and above. Muna said the Pfizer vaccine is about 90% effective and following the first batch of community vaccines the NMI could request more. The doses would be at no cost to the community, she said. “It’s paid for by the federal government.” However, she said that there is “administering can be billed to healthcare insurance” if an individual has that insurance. Otherwise she said CHC will work with the government to ensure administering costs are covered.
She said the CHC has been “meeting weekly in regards to this with the CDC and the [COVID] task force.” As for precisely who would receive the vaccine, she said, “It’s going to take a lot of data and information collection.”
Muna said the NMI would receive ten doses of the COVID antibody vaccine; Guam would receive 50, she said. Various manufacturers are working to produce those.
Janela Carrera, spokesperson for the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services said, “We’re working with the CDC on guidance. … We did submit our vaccine plan to the CDC.”
Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres said as to tourism planning, the news of vaccine deliveries is a positive. “It helps a lot,” he told the Journal.
However, NMI officials said the community would continue to focus on border entry points and ensure that essential workers who entered the NMI would meet regulations such as not congregating. Warren Villagomez, chairman of the COVID-19 task force said, “We’re talking about reopening the economy; that is being looked at closely with nothing less than what we’re doing right now.”
Muna said for example, critical workers should perform their critical work and then return to their lodgings.
Director Eugene Tebuteb of the Department of Labor said Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Additional (or Unemployment) Compensation. “In total – starting in June 20 – we have obligated $72,346,089 for PUA and we have obligated $86,574,600 for FPUC.” Most of the funds have been dispersed, he said.
Agueda Camacho, supervisor of the DOL call center said the call center fields between 300 to 400 calls daily and has 15 PUA coordinators. Tebuteb said there are 36,000 total claims of which about 8,000 have been adjudicated to date, to include potentially fraudulent claims. DOL will re-open to the public Dec. 1. Tebuteb said he doesn’t think all claims will be adjudicated by then. “But we’re gonna be close.”
Secretary of Finance David Atalig said that for fiscal 2020, “Our [tax] collections are down over $100 million. We don’t see any changes.” As to distribution of PUA and FPAC funds, he said, “We are working on batches of direct deposits … $3 million or $4 million are being prepped up for direct deposit.” Those deposits are for claims of Oct. 6 and Oct. 9, he said. Paper checks for the Sept. 29 claims are with the Department of Labor for review he said. His office is also distributing tax refunds, he said.
Black Construction cluster kicks off scrutiny of construction industry
Art San Agustin, director of the Department of Public Health and Social Service said that DPHSS will be reaching out to other construction companies following the development of a cluster at Black Construction Corp.
The first positive individual at Black Construction – a local worker – triggered testing from Oct. 24. “It has resulted in over 300 positive cases,” San Agustin said at a press conference on Nov. 9.
Black announced earlier that day in a release that it was ceasing work on all projects, as directed by DPHSS. These included five major military projects (See www.mbjguam.com for information of military construction awards made to Black.), the A.B. Won Pat International Airport’s third floor arrivals corridor, and one project in Barrigada for Pacific Unlimited, Kaae said.
The testing is being conducted in coordination with Black and American Medical Center, he said. A Rapid Engagement Team and the Northern Community Health Center were conducting testing, he said.
Leonard K. Kaae, executive vice president and general manager of Black said all positive cases have been isolated. “We do have 500 – close to 600 H2Bs on-island besides a local workforce of nearly 300,” he said.
At the beginning of the pandemic on March 18, he said, “We developed a very robust, rigid protocol program to ensure that we’re keeping our personnel safe, healthy and working daily on a regular basis,” he said. For nearly eight months the workforce had been kept safe at least in part due to lockdown of H-2 workers, he said, with G4S providing security.
Now, Kaae said, “We continue to test all of our personnel, employees, sub-contractors and vendors,” who have been on the company’s job sites,” he said. That totals about 1,300 people.
Dr. Hao V. Nguyen of American Medical Center said the group is considered a cluster. “The chance of spreading to the community is actually very, very small,” he said. The 312 positive workers had been isolated, he said, as had those who had been in close contact. One individual is hospitalized, he said. Nguyen said the negative individuals “are sectioned out in smaller groups.” Most positives were asymptomatic, he said. “There’s no interaction with the community at this point.”
Kaae said local workers have temperatures tested daily and are monitored. Nguyen said the company has its own registered nurse. After the positive case, he said, “The contact tracing started immediately – in house,” he said, as did testing. As of Nov. 9, 556 people had been tested, Nguyen said.
Kaae said project sites are secured and not in populated areas. “We have 24-7 security at all of our project sites,” he said. Nobody is allowed in or out, he said. Staff on one project rarely mingled with those on another project, he told the Journal.
As to weekly contact reports, San Agustin said, “We’re still working on those.” He also said DPHSS was waiting on an opinion of the legal liability of releasing the name of a company where there was a cluster. He did say that announcing as Black had done, allowed for DPHSS to work with the company and activate a Rapid Engagement Team.
Following testing of the Astumbo, Dededo population on Nov. 7, San Agustin said testing for the next week or so would be of Black personnel. In addition, he said, “We are actively reaching out to other construction companies that have living quarters on their site and … working with them to just be very proactive and making sure that they have systems in place and monitor their employees.” After that, he said, community testing would resume, he said.
Kaae told the Journal it was fair to say that there was not a lot of COVID in the construction industry, but said,
“I can’t attest to the other construction companies. I was told there could be some positives in another contracting company, but I don’t know the extent of that.”
Right now, Black was concentrating on the health of its employees, he said.
Guam governor says restrictions may be lifted by Xmas, depending on numbers
Guam’s 90th fatality was announced on Nov. 9, with Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero releasing a message that if Guam’s numbers drop in the days between now and the Thanksgiving Holiday, gatherings may be authorized for more than the current five people.
The Joint Information Center announced Nov. 10 a total of 240 positive cases, which included numbers from Nov. 6 to 8 and included “135 cases through contact tracing and clusters in congregating living settings … .”
The administration uses a COVID Area Risk Score, which is at 9.8 and would need to drop to 5 for restrictions to be eased, the message said.
The Northern Mariana Islands announced Nov. 9 two more positive cases were among arrivals, bringing that total to 100.
The Port Authority of Guam announced its 20th positive employee and identification of 13 employees who have been exposed to the individual. The port’s own contact tracing identified 409 employees in close contact. Of the 20 identified, 17 returned to work and the port announced one fatality. mbj