NMI inks economic agreements; plenty of job vacancies in the commonwealth

Micronesian Renewable Energy will install solar panels in the Northern Mariana Islands Public School System’s schools, as well as at Northern Marianas College, following an Oct. 7 launch. The solar company will fund installation of the solar panels, with PSS responsible for the cost of solar power consumed.

Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres said at an Oct. 8 news conference, “Hopefully in the next year they’ll be 100% off the grid and there will be solar panels across the CNMI. This is a huge savings for PSS – from $3 million down to $2 million.” He hopes saving will exceed that, Torres said.

In a long-awaited move, Saipan Portopia Hotel Corp., which does business as Hyatt Regency Saipan signed a 40-year lease with a 15-year optional extension with the NMI Department of Public Lands. The lease was due to expire in December, according to Journal files.

The governor said he hopes the solar installations and the Hyatt signing will offer additional jobs in the labor force.

With talk of the revocation of Imperial Pacific Inc.’s casino license due to non-payment of fees and other issues, and the Commonwealth Casino Commission requesting operations funding, Torres said, “We’ll take it one step at a time. We have to look at the viability of the industry. We will be communicating with the director and board and see how we can maximize CCC’s role and some of the amusement activities.” As to e-gaming, the governor said, “Maybe that’s something we can look into.”

Director of finance David DLG Atalig said the government will offer a considerable number of services online with the rollout of its Enterprise Resource System, with a program of Tyler Technologies. “This inter-government piece is a piece of software that will help investors and businesses be able to have literally an online presence in applying either for a business license or submitting your corporate documents and … in getting the permits and licenses you need from our permitting agency.” Permitting will be integrated across the government, he said.

In other NMI news, the Commonwealth Office of Transit Authority reported a 58% ridership increase in its Call-A-Ride Saipan Demand Responsive Shared Ride Service for fiscal 2021 compared to last fiscal year.

COTA’s total ridership for fiscal 2021 reached 14,735 trips – the highest since the inception of the program in 2011. COTA’s ridership in fiscal 2020 was 9,314 trips.

Part of the increase in ridership was also due to the recent increase in fuel costs in the CNMI, according to an Oct. 7 release from the Office of the Governor.

COTA also records a 67% increase in its revenue farebox collection for fiscal 2021 for a total amount of $45,130 compared to fiscal 2020.

Eugene Tebuteb, director of employment services at the NMI Department of Labor, said there were 492 job openings posted in the month of September. The NMI has paid out $245 million in pandemic assistance, but still has pending claims.


Guam Public Health continuing apace with inspections

Guam’s Department of Public Health and Social services released the Sanitation Inspection Report and COVID-19 Inspection Report from the Division of Environmental Health for the week of Sept. 27 to Oct. 3.

All properties were found in compliance for COVID-19 regulations. Most properties were found in compliance for sanitation or had minor infractions.

Noted for improper sanitation maintenance at temporary workforce housing was Modern International Inc. for one housing unit, and for non-renewal of the sanitary permit Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Agat, the *Santa Fe Hotel in Tamuning for the property and also for the swimming pool.

*The Santa Fe said both its permits were renewed on Sept. 29.


Guam gets Israeli defense system

The island will see the deployment of the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command and 38th Air
Defense Artillery Brigade to support the temporary deployment of one of the Army’s Iron Dome Defense Systems to Andersen Air Force Base.

Personnel have already arrived in Guam, and the temporary deployment is anticipated to take place from mid-October through mid-December. The deployment will be executed in multiple locations and equipment may be visible in Apra Harbor, Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz and Andersen Air Force Base, according to an Oct. 7 release. In addition, soldiers and equipment from Fort Bliss, Texas will be part of this deployment for the duration, the release said.

The Iron Dome is a mobile all-weather air defense system developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries. Rafael and Raytheon Technologies formed a joint venture to build Iron Dome systems in the United States.

The U.S. contributed funding to the original development.


Quarantine deterrent to travel, survey finds

The International Air Transport Association reported that air travelers are increasingly frustrated with the COVID-19 travel restrictions. A survey commissioned by IATA of 4,700 respondents in 11 markets in September “demonstrated confidence that the risks of COVID-19 can be effectively managed and that the freedom to travel should be restored,” according to an Oct. 5 release.

The survey found:

  • 67% of respondents felt that most country borders should be opened now, up 12 percentage-points from the June 2021 survey.  
  • 64% of respondents felt that border closures are unnecessary and have not been effective in containing the virus (up 11 percentage points from June 2021).
  • 73% responded that their quality of life is suffering due to COVID-19 travel restrictions (up 6 percentage points from June 2021). 

The biggest deterrent to air travel continues to be quarantine measures, as 84% of respondents indicated that they will not travel if there is a chance of quarantine at their destination. A growing proportion of respondents support the removal of quarantine if:  

  • A person has tested negative for COVID-19 (73% in September compared to 67% in June)  
  • A person has been vaccinated (71% in September compared to 68% in June).

See the full survey here: https://www.iata.org/en/iata-repository/pressroom/presentations/covid-19-passenger-survey-agm2021/


UOG postpones in-person event; calls for Distinguished Alumni nominations

The University of Guam has “postponed indefinitely” the 2021 Distinguished Alumni Awards, scheduled for Oct. 30 at the Hyatt Regency Guam.

The University of Guam Office of Development and Alumni Affairs, in partnership with the UOG Alumni Association, is accepting nominations for the 2021 UOG Distinguished Alumni Awards until the new extended deadline of 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 15, according to an Oct. 7 release.

For details on making a nomination, the nomination form, and the list of former winners, visit www.uog.edu/alumni/distinguished-alumni-awards.php


COVID stats show Guam grim picture; additional research needed

From Sept. 6 to Oct. 4, there has been an average of 1,100 COVID tests conducted per day. The test positivity rate is still fluctuating at about 13%, according to an Oct. 7 presentation by the Office of Epidemiology and Research and COVID-19 Surveillance Unit at the Guam Department of Health and Social Services.  There is a continued plateau in positive cases and the seven-day rolling average has hovered at about 130 during the past two weeks. The Covid Area Risk Score is continuing to fluctuate around the high twenties.

All age groups are showing continued decreases in cases, with a significant decrease among those aged 75+, beginning about Sept. 19, yet this group has shown an increase after Sept. 29. The age group with the largest case rate in the past three days are those aged 60-74 followed by 18-39, then 40-59 years of age.

Since Sept. 26, there has been an increase in symptomatic cases, though there remain more asymptomatic cases. The proportion of breakthrough cases is averaging around 45% of the daily case rate. Most cases are still among the unvaccinated, and the proportion of fully vaccinated is at 79.6 % of the eligible population. The breakthroughs among deaths as of Oct. 4 equals10 out of 81 deaths in 2021 (12.3%). Since Sept. 23, hospital cases have been decreasing, the ICU numbers remain stagnant, and deaths are still occuring. The total death count is now at 208, and DPHSS is still awaiting information from the hospital to do any real analysis or breakdown of those in the hospital and identify trends within this subset.

The breakthrough cases by date of full vaccination and subsequent positive test, is skewing toward a four-month interval overall.

Younger age groups have shorter intervals between full vaccination and a positive test, while the elderly have much longer intervals, probably due to opportunities for exposure. Groups younger than 75 years, in the working age population, have greater chances for exposure

Following heart diseases, 342; and malignant neoplasms (carcinomas or sarcomas),199, COVID became the third leading cause of death in Guam for 2020 with 113 fatalities. The island saw 1,192 fatalities in 2020.


And also:


Hyatt Hotels Corp. and Chase Card Services launched the new World of Hyatt Business Credit Card – a Visa Signature Business Card. The card offered by Hyatt features an adaptive rewards accelerator that allows business cardmembers to earn double World of Hyatt points per quarter on categories they spend the most, according to an Oct. 6 release.

The World of Hyatt Business Credit Card is now available and has an annual fee of $199. For more information on benefits and limited time bonuses, visit www.chase.com/hyattbizcard.

PayPal QR Codes can be used on select United Airlines flights departing from Chicago O’ Hare International Airport in November and before the end of the year, will extend to all flights across the entire network where contactless payment is available, according to an Oct. 6 release.

Download the PayPal app and set your preferred payment method for QR code payments, prior to leaving the gate.

  • To make an inflight purchase, Click the ‘Pay with QR codes’ button
  • Then click the ‘In-flight Purchase’ button
  • Show the QR code to the flight attendant to scan
  • Look for an emailed confirmation receipt upon landing

For your diary:

The virtual conference of the Society for Human Resource Management, Guam Chapter is scheduled for Oct. 22. Other information was given in the Journal of Oct. 4. For further information on the conference and to register, see www.guam.shrm.orgmbj