Palau announced an individual had arrived in the island country and later showed traces of positivity for COVID, though the risk of infection is slim.

Speaking at a press conference the morning of May 31, GaafarJ. Uherbelau, administrator for HealthPolicy, Research & Development at the Ministry of Health, said the individual arrived in the country May 9. “It has been over 21 days since the traveler came in – well beyond the incubation period. The risk is low,” he said.

Speaking virtually from Pohnpei where he is visiting, Dr. Thane Hancock of the Centers for Disease Control in Guam, said, “Palau is in the best position to respond to it. [Minister of Health] Dr. Yano’s understanding is excellent – some individuals continue to shed the viral DNA … even if there’s no live virus left. They still test positive. It does indicate this is probably a lower risk case for infectiousness.”

President Surangel S. Whipps said, “There is no need for panic. … The Palau population has high vaccination rates. We have been able to vaccinate 97% of our adult population and 70% of our total population. The Ministry [of Health] has done an excellent job,” Whipps said.

Palau has isolated the individual and begun contact tracing.

Hancock said Palau had responded appropriately after identifying the case, even though it is low risk.

“Palalu is doing everything necessary to eradicate any chance of infection with this case,” he said.

As to the flight that arrived May 30 in Palau, there is no change in protocol for passengers, Uherbelau, said. “They had a proper PCR test and swab before they got on the plane.”

He said the population should “proceed as normal, but with care. Keep practicing preventive measures.”

After previously testing negative, the individual exhibited traces of COVID on testing through a GeneXpert test for tuberculosis on Day 21 of the individual’s stay. Earlier testing had not revealed COVID.

“All his tests were negative,” President Surangel S. Whipps told the Journal after the press conference. The individual had previously had COVID, Whipps said.

The good news, the president said, is “It won’t change anything. It’s not community spread.” Public events in the island will continue, he said.

With regard to Palau’s CDC COVID level, Hancock said, “Palau is currently at the lowest level.” The CDC should not count travel-associated cases, he said. “Palau should maintain its low level.” mbj