BY MAUREEN N. MARATITA
“Travelers arriving at the Guam International Airport Authority [sic] must provide the following Health Declaration information for themselves and all family members who reside with them and are traveling together on the same flight.”
That’s what the Guam Health Declaration digital form says on its first page.
But the above statement is inaccurate. You don’t have to provide all the information the form requests on its six pages — only what is asterisked. In fact, you don’t have to spend any time filling in an electronic form before you arrive on-island.
The electronic form is now front and center on the DPPHS website and the Guam Visitors Bureau has a link to the form on arcgis.com. ArcGIS Online is “a cloud-based mapping and analysis solution” and the vendor used by the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services to collect and collate information requested electronically. The declaration form is on the ArcGIS site too.
The Journal received comments on the digital health declaration form in December. Some individuals were ready to share stories, if not names.
One businessman from Guam traveled to Hawaii in December for a week. He filled out the mandatory Hawaii Safe Travels form online and was cleared by United Airlines at the A.B. Won Pat International Airport, Guam before boarding, receiving a wristband to wear.
“It couldn’t have been easier,” he said of his arrival in Honolulu. “I just walked out the other side.
“Why couldn’t they do that for the flight to Guam?”
Instead, for his return the businessman filled out the Guam Health Declaration online and received an email acknowledgment with a QR code.
Onboard, he received paper forms and decided to fill those out, just in case.
His flight was full enough that there were lines to be screened by DPHSS staff on arrival in Guam. The businessman pulled up the QR code on his phone, only to find out that it had disappeared. “We get a lot of that,” he was told by DPHSS staff, who he said were helpful.
The businessman said the DPHSS lines were long enough that baggage piled up on the carousel with cases on top of each other four deep, and there did not seem to be staff to fix that. The businessman initially could not reach his case.
“The only good thing with the QR code is that it gets you into a shorter line [on arrival],” he said.
Another businessman returning to Guam from California with a family member couldn’t initially figure out where to find the health declaration on the DPHSS site (We presume he got help). He and his family member did say of filling in the declaration, “It was simple once you started.” However, they said it was annoying that there are no instructions that anything uploaded needs to be in a jpeg format.
Once you have completed the process, there is nothing to tell you that you can expect an email with a QR code, or how long that will take, and they thought that the form didn’t go through.
They referenced filling in forms for Hawaii, the Northern Mariana Islands and other destinations and how easy those are.
Nobody had an issue with the Guam customs form. The Guam Customs and Quarantine Agency has the Customs form on its site. The Guam airport site has it too, or just Google it.
Which brings me to my own experiences with the health form, other forms and what DPHSS said.
My husband, Ken, and I headed to London in England in the third week of November, and we traveled via Incheon Airport in Korea with Korean Air.
Our close encounter with health-related forms began with filling in two digital four-page Passenger Locator forms for the U.K., one per passenger. We couldn’t do that until 48 hours before our arrival.
But we could set up an account and complete much of the form off-line until the 48 hours began, if we chose to do so, and prep anything we needed to upload, like confirmation of our on-arrival test. We could click to receive by email a PDF of what we had submitted. Those came immediately.
We live in a digital age, but some travelers still print itineraries, and I am one of those, so I printed everything. SPOILER ALERT: Do not laugh.
The hard copies of the U.K. Passenger Locator Forms, and the two printed antigen test confirmations helped speed the verification process for transit in Incheon and arrival in London at our check-in with KAL at the Guam airport, along with our Guam vaccination cards, and of course our passports.
Now fast forward to our departure from London in December and arrival in Guam.
I filled in the very straightforward Guam Customs Form, uploaded it, and both my husband and I saved the resultant QR code.
Though I didn’t look for long, I couldn’t find the digital Guam Health Declaration on the DPHSS site either before I left Guam. Janela Carrera, public information officer at the Guam Department of Health and Social Services; assured me for this story that it’s been there since the form was launched. But the Guam Visitors Bureau site link to the digital health form and the customs form popped up when I searched.
I tried to get a copy of the digital Guam Health form from DPHSS for this story, but the department does not have it.
I remember the digital form asks you a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ question only for a PCR test. FAQs before you start would obviously be helpful.
There is no way to save or receive a copy of the form you filled. The acknowledgement email that our posting was complete arrived within 30 minutes.
The digital health declaration indeed has asterisked information as to what is required, Carrera said, but did agree that the Yes or No question for a PCR test was outdated. DPHSS is also aware there are issues with the disappearing QR code.
“Maybe that’s something we can improve on,” she said of the form.
Heathrow Airport told travelers to allow three hours to transit to gates, and that was no joke. The Maratitas were first in line to check in with KAL for our return to Guam. The staff checked requirements for Guam and requested various hard copies. We had everything — except a printed copy of the Guam Health Declaration forms. KAL accepted the confirmation email that showed we had filed electronically, because the email acknowledgment had the magic words “Guam Health Declaration Form” and “registration” in the email. The frequent flyer line was speedily growing behind us, which probably didn’t hurt. There was another family heading for Guam from London with KAL, so I hope we made life easier for them.
The requirement for printed documents was apparently not unique to KAL. Apart from a busy COVID testing center, Heathrow’s Terminal 3 had a printing business for those passengers who were confronted with the need for hard copies. If you are traveling internationally, expect the unexpected. We took antigen tests the day before we left London and were also asked to show printed copies of our negative test results at the gate as we boarded for Incheon.
On the flight into Guam from Incheon, we were handed the customs form and health declaration papers. My husband asked, “Didn’t we already do this?” But like that businessman, we took no chances and he filled them in.
The printed form was what DPHSS took from us, and they also wanted our vaccination cards. We did tell them we had filled in everything online.
Carrera said of completing the digital Guam Health Declaration form, “It’s not a requirement.” She said it’s an option for travelers. “We made it more convenient — so it will be accessible to passengers online. … There are other ways we can accommodate you here.”
The intent of the digital form is really to show vaccine status and negative tests on arrival, she said.
DPHSS did provide figures to show how many people have completed a health declaration since it was introduced in Guam in August 2021 — a total of 11,927 between Aug. 4 and Dec. 22 — but as of press time had not provided figures on those who did so electronically and those that did so in the shorter paper form.
Figures rose as more residents began to travel and tourists increased with the addition of flights, Carrera said. More people probably began to fill in the electronic declarations as word got around, and the number of screened passengers was likely “a mixture of both,” she said.
Carerra said the electronic form is appropriate for people traveling from the U.S. mainland, returning residents and of course English language speakers. In any case, she said the stated recommendation is, “Everybody who travels should have printed copies of their documents.”
Some Guam residents are not aware there is now an option to fill in forms digitally and so they don’t do so. That included a Guam businessman I spoke with who returned in December after two weeks in the NMI and Justin Green, our longtime photographer, who went to Hawaii in December for his daughter’s graduation. Justin filled in the mandatory Hawaii Safe Travels form on his way to Hawaii but filled in the paper forms on the flight back from Hawaii. He estimated the flight was about 85% full. In Guam, he said, “There was a line, but it didn’t take too long really. All we had to show was our vaccination cards and IDs.” He said the DPHSS staff were “real friendly.”
There is no on-line non-English version of the Guam Health form, but there are foreign language versions of the paper forms distributed on flights, Carrera said.
After we passed Public Health and got our luggage, the Guam Customs officer took the paper form from us, but also asked if we had a QR code. “Oh good,” he said, accessed it immediately and after a couple of questions we were on our way home. mbj
|Completed Guam Health Declaration Forms in 2021|
|*To Dec. 22|
Source: Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services