COVID variant found in NMI

The Northern Mariana Islands identified its first COVID variant. A COVID-19 specimen sent in May 2021 to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was identified as the alpha variant, also known as B.1.1.7., according to a July 2 release from the Commonwealth Health Care Corp. in Saipan.

“The specimen came from a traveler who tested positive upon arrival in April from Guam. The traveler was quarantined and had only one contact, who also tested positive for COVID-19, but was not identified as a variant,” the CHCC said.

The first reports of variants in Guam were from specimens collected between January and April 2021. The CNMI is one of the last places in the U.S. to report its first case of a variant of concern. This variant has also been found in 164 different locations globally, including almost all of the CNMI’s Pacific neighbors. According to the CDC, the alpha variant comprised nearly 60% of COVID-19 cases reported in the U.S. from May 23 to June 5, and it has been found in over 53 U.S. jurisdictions. The alpha variant was first detected in the U.S. in December 2020, and before that in the United Kingdom in September 2020.


Yigo postal unit re-opens

The U.S. Postal Service announced July 2 that the Yigo Contract Postal Unit located at 244 Gayinero Drive will reopen for business next Tuesday, July 6.

The facility will resume its PO Box and retail services and its previous hours of operation from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.

Guam Postmaster Tammy Schoenen apologized for the inconvenience.

Until the Dededo CPU reopens, its customers will continue to be served over the counter at the Barrigada Post Office. Barrigada is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week for those customers to retrieve their mail.


Grant roundup:

The Northern Mariana Islands received $3.49 million in technical assistance and maintenance assistance grant funding, according to a July 1 release from the Office of the Governor. The funding from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Department of Insular Affairs included $1,171,160 to the Department of Finance for the Revenue Management Information Tax System; $363,736 to the Department of Finance for an NMI Wide Valuation Report; $265,500 to the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. for an automated Water Read, Supply, and Lead Detection System Pilot Project; $245,000 to the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. for a feasibility study for a Wastewater Collection, Transmission, and Treatment System Project; $241,431 to the Office of the Governor for an NMI Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreational Planning Initiative; $183,876 to the Office of the Governor for a Comprehensive Wetlands Management Plan;  $169,307 to the Municipality of Tinian and Aguiguan for the House of Taga Restoration and Preservation Project; $150,000 to the Office of the Governor for the Implementation of the Saipan Street Naming and Addressing Master Map; $368,500 to the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. for the Jet Vac Sewer Cleaning Equipment Acquisition; $150,000 to the Municipality of Tinian and Aguiguan for the Backhoe Loader Acquisition; and $185,000 to the Commonwealth Ports Authority for maintenance equipment for the Tinian Airport and Port of Tinian.

OIA is also awarding CARES Act funding to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. for 

$1,72 million for the Pharmacy Improvement Project and Renovation Improvement Project and $581,749 for the Renovation and Improvements to the Laboratory Project

The Guam Department of Agriculture’s Biosecurity Division has been awarded a $100,000 grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service and National Association of State Foresters, under the State Urban Forest Resilience program. Primary objectives are “to maintain current personnel capacity while expanding the number of target invasive species surveyed at Guam’s two main ports: the Port Authority of Guam and the A.B. Won Pat International Airport, Guam and to replace trees that once served as CRB breeding sites (and have since been removed) with native non-host trees at the ports.


Airline announces fleet additions and upgrades

United Airlines announced June 29 in Chicago an order of 200 Boeing 737 MAX and 70 Airbus A321s for its fleet. According to a release, “United will retrofit 100% of its remaining mainline, narrow-body fleet … and plans to increase premium seats by 75% per North American departure, provide larger overhead bins and seatback entertainment in every seat, and offer the industry’s fastest available WiFi.”

United will also increase the total number of available seats across its domestic network by almost 30% per departure and replace at least 200 single-class regional jets with larger mainline aircraft. The order is expected to create 25,000 jobs, significantly lower carbon emissions per seat, and contribute an estimated $50 billion annually towards the U.S. economy by 2026. “When combined with the airline’s current order book, United expects to add more than 500 new aircraft,” the release said.


US CBP introduces new process

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection in partnership with the Commonwealth Ports Authority, announced June 22 the implementation of the Simplified Arrival process at the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport in Saipan

Simplified Arrival is “an enhanced international arrival process that uses facial biometrics to automate the manual document checks that are already required for admission into the United States. This process provides travelers with a touchless process that further secures and streamlines international arrivals while fulfilling a longstanding congressional mandate to biometrically record the entry and exit of non-U.S. citizens,” a release said. 

Non-U.S. citizens who have traveled to the U.S. previously may no longer need to provide fingerprints as their identity will be confirmed through the touchless facial comparison process, the release said.

Mark Pablo, Chief Public Affairs Liaison for U.S CBP’s Office of Field Operations at the A.B. Won Pat International Airport Guam told the Journal Simplified Arrival was implemented in Guam in mid-June and allowed for training.


NMI adopts Safe Travel Plan

The Northern Mariana Islands has adopted the World Travel & Tourism Council’s “SafeTravels” program, which certifies businesses as safe for visitors

Guam has more than 100 members of the program.


The numbers are in

Europe‘s 46.4% cut in seat numbers takes it above the Middle East, where seat capacity is down by 48.5% versus 2019 as of the week commencing Jun 28. This means that Europe is no longer the worst performing region on this measure, for the first time since October 2020, according to the CAPA – Center for Aviation, which release the information July 2.

The Asia Pacific‘s seat count is down by 40.0%, Africa‘s by 39.2%, Latin America‘s by 34.0%, and North America‘s by 21.5%, CAPA said. mbj