Guam COVID restrictions: slight uptick for gatherings and hints again for the future

Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero announced a minimal easing of COVID restrictions as of 8 a.m. on Oct. 20.

“We can begin to loosen our grip on the restrictions we put in place at the peak of this third surge by moving toward a responsible and gradual easing of restrictions,” she said.

For restaurants and bars, outdoor dining will be permitted regardless of a patron’s vaccination status, but indoor dining at restaurants and bars will only be allowed for the vaccinated; the indoor social gatherings limitation will be increased from 10 vaccinated individuals to 25 individuals, regardless of vaccination status, and the outdoor social gathering limitation will be increased to 75 individuals outdoors.

For incoming travelers, quarantine will be waived for those who have been fully vaccinated, for those who present a negative PCR test result collected no more than three days prior to departure, and for the first time for those who present a valid negative antigen test result collected no more than one day prior to departure.

Next in line to be lifted would be more social gathering restrictions, since Leon Guerrero said, “We are now in a better position, and we have now progressed the situation and contained the virus much better…”

She said, “We would lift restrictions and monitor data for about two weeks, and once it appears to be on the downward trend and shows we’ve contained it… we would probably lift social gathering restrictions next, but still continue the wearing of masks for a while.”

She also said the public health emergency would extend through the end of the year at least.

Additionally, the governor said anyone testing positive can get monoclonal antibody treatment, which can be done as an outpatient service, and has already helped 1,000 people “to get better, faster.”

As far as the vaccination, Leon Guerrero announced all government of Guam employees with children would be given three hours of administrative leave to get their children vaccinated.

As to other measures that might help struggling businesses, Leon Guerrero said Carl T.C. Gutierrez, president of the Guam Visitors Bureau, had made a proposal for the visitor market. “We are looking at that also,” she said, declining to give details. As for reduction of business privilege tax, the governor said she had not changed her stance. “No, I have not, she said. BPT projections are still below projections she said. Small businesses she said are paying less than 5%. “The reality is they pay about 3%, because of the Dave Santos Act,” Leon Guerrero said.


NMI changes COVID regs for arrivals

The Northern Mariana Islands Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. confirmed that – as the Journal reported on Nov. 12 – COVID regulations upon entry to the NMI will change. From Nov. 19, fully vaccinated individuals do not have to quarantine, providing all individuals in a residence are fully vaccinated. Effective Nov.19, “all inbound domestic travelers are required to provide additional contact information on the mandatory health declaration form, and quarantine will be determined by the vaccination status of the traveler and their household,” according to a Nov. 17 release.

Similarly, fully vaccinated residents staying in a hotel will not have to quarantine either. Arrivals will not have to test for COVID, provided they have vaccination cards. Travelers will be required to complete the NMI online declaration form at least 48 hours before arrival.

However, “travelers verified as fully vaccinated and verified as residing in a fully vaccinated household or lodging … will be required to get tested for COVID-19 between Days 3 to 5 after arrival, depending on their day of exit from the CNMI. If exiting prior to day 5, their contacts will also be required to test for COVID-19.

CHCC did not say how it will verify contacts, or what constitutes a “contact.”

Unvaccinated arrivals will have to quarantine. What is yet not confirmed is whether international arrivals will still have to quarantine for five days.

In all cases, upon arrival, passengers fill out a healthcare declaration that includes all contact and necessary information for contact tracing. From there, some passengers will be flagged, for instance those under five years and those who are unvaccinated, and that information will also be sent to the contact tracing team.

In other NMI COVID news, during a Nov. 19 press briefing, Esther L. Muna, CEO of the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., said 70% of all COVID cases since Oct. 28 have been identified through contact tracing, and that the Northern Mariana Islands “are not running out of test kits, just running a robust and targeted testing regimen.”

The NMI announced 23 new cases on Nov. 18. Since Oct. 28, there have been 140 new cases, of which 92 were identified via contact tracing, 38 were identified via community testing, and 10 were identified via travel testing.


Vouchers available in Saipan for appliances

The Northern Mariana Islands Energy Division Office advised Nov. 16 that residential homeowners on Saipan can redeem unredeemed or expired Appliance Rebate Vouchers under the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Energizing Insular Communities Energy Efficient, Energy Star Appliance Rebate Program to assist other residential homeowners in replacing old and inefficient appliances with ones that qualified for Energy-Efficient/Energy Star rated products, such as refrigerators, Washing machines, split and window air conditioners for a limited time or until funds run out, whichever comes first. 

Appliances must replace existing models.  Residents with newly constructed or renovated homes are eligible to apply for new purchases of qualified Energy Efficient or Energy Star rated appliances. Residents impacted by Typhoon Mangkhut and Super Typhoon Yutu are eligible, provided they have not already received similar assistance from local, federal, or private entities. Additional requirements or conditions may apply.

Rebate Applications will be available for distribution to the public beginning Nov. 22 at the CNMI Energy Division Office.


Settlement between Guam CCU and AG to cost commissioners thousands

The Office of the Attorney General resolved its suit against the Guam Consolidated Commission on Utilities members Joseph Duenas, Francis Santos, Simon Sanchez and former members George Bamba and Pedro Guerrero. The lawsuit, filed in February 2020, was based on a 2015 closed-door, executive session where CCU members discussed and decided on a $28,000 raise for the Guam Waterworks Authority interim general manager. The defendants must pay $10,049.20 under the terms of the settlement. This amount was based on several factors, including how much the interim manager received as a result of the increase. “Although CCU members subsequently voted on and approved the raise in an open meeting, the Open Government Law clearly and explicitly prohibits discussion of salaries, salary levels, and salary adjustments in executive sessions,” according to a Nov. 16 release from the AG’s office.

This was the first suit in nearly a decade brought by the OAG pursuant to the Enforcement of Proper Government Spending Act, according to the release.

Settlement proceeds will be “returned to the community” through a partnership with Direct Service Providers such as the Lighthouse Recovery Center and the Oasis Empowerment Center. “Individuals who have successfully completed drug rehabilitation programs and are entering after-care services, such as housing transitions, may be eligible to receive credits toward deposits for new utility accounts or arrears for existing accounts,” the release said.

“The CocoNES framework, in its entirety, will have a specific mission: to see through the successful design and implementation of the coconut national export strategy, and delivery of its plans of actions. A successful export strategy will result in sustainable supply chains that will bring our very own coconut products from local farmers out to the World. The mission is to make this happen successfully, and to translate that success into sustainable incomes and food security for families …, “ Panuelo said.


FSM plans coconut exports

The Federated States of Micronesia is turning to one of its natural resources for export potential, by setting up the Coconut National Export Strategy, or CocoNES, according to a Nov. 17 release.

A Presidential Order mandates that the CocoNES framework for the FSM will be comprised of a Task Force called the CocoNES Advisory Body; a Coconut Sector Development Coalition; and a CocoNES Secretariat. The CocoNES Advisory Body will include the Secretaries of the Departments of Resources & Development, Justice, Finance & Administration, Transportation, Communications & Infrastructure, and Foreign Affairs. The CocoNES Advisory Body will be mandated to provide oversight of the CocoNES design and implementation, update the president on a regular basis, and remove roadblocks encountered for a successful strategy design. The Vital Group will act as the CocoNES Secretariat,and is mandated to provide operational and administrative support to the overall CocoNES framework. The Vital Group consists of Vital FSM Petroleum Corp., which operates in all FSM states and its affiliate Vital Energy Inc. The initiative is intended to encourage local families to grow coconuts, the release said.

In other FSM news, repatriations will take place to Kosrae on Nov. 15, to Yap on Nov.28, to Chuuk on Nov. 29 and to Pohnpei on Dec. 1.

In addition, Congress has been asked to allocate $600,000 to replace two Caroline Islands Air planes and to consider various presidential initiatives, including extending maternity leave from six weeks to 12 weeks.


Guam’s grant programs going strong

As of Nov. 18, 98.6% of all Pandemic Unemployment Assistance 2021 awards have been reviewed, with 1,307 applicants receiving a total of $14.96 million; 17 applicants are pending responses, which if approved, would add another $1 million to the total. With $20 million allotted to the program, more than $4 million is left unaccounted for.

“Our goal was to get the money out before the end of the year, but we can take a little longer if we need to,” said Melanie R. Mendiola, CEO and administrator for Guam Economic Development Authority, during a Nov. 18 board of directors meeting.

In other GEDA news, she also discussed the new childcare assistance program, which would extend help to the 45 licensed childcare facilities on island.

To be eligible, a facility has to be a certified childcare development fund provider, meet applicable health and safety requirements and be in good standing with Guam’s regulations for licenses or registered care. The grant program would give each facility a maximum of $400,000; the award would be calculated through determining 80% of monthly prospective 2022 expenses, 80% of COVID related expenses not already covered by other grants and 80% of one-time expenses for previous or prospective renovations and improvements in response to the pandemic.

Applications opened on Nov. 19 and will be accepted through Dec. 3. Interested childcare facilities can send applications to [email protected] or hand-deliver to GEDA’s office.

“Since it’s only 45 daycares, we’re hoping to get this money out by the end of the year,” said Joann G. Camacho, deputy administrator, GEDA.


Retail alert:

The T Galleria by DFS in Guam will operate normal business hours from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Nov. 26, or Black Friday.

DFS will have more than 50 beauty brands in-store and the fashion hall will also be partially reopened for fashion brands. Shoppers can enter to join in a Black Friday Exclusive Raffle Draw for a chance to win exclusive prizes. Black Friday Raffle Drawings will be held at 2.30 0 p.m., 4. 30 p.m., and 6.30 p.m. Customers must be present to win. In celebration of the reopening of our fashion hall, shoppers can also enjoy fashion clearance offers with an extra discount for LOYAL T members on select fashion brands from Nov. 26 until Dec. 5. mbj