NMI announces change to unvaccinated on-arrival protocols, further COVID details

Arrivals in the NMI are currently being tested on arrival and must isolate in their residence or “lodging” until results are received. The NMI has varied protocols, depending on vaccination status or essential worker status, for example.

Esther L. Muna, CEO of the Commonwealth Health Care Corp., said at a media briefing on Jan. 7 that there will be a change in arrival protocols from Jan. 10 for unvaccinated arrivals. “We will be testing out those arrival on Day 5, rather than on Day 7,” she said. “We are looking for Omicron.”

Warren Villagomez, chairman of the COVID-19 Task Force said, “The task force is stand by and ready to support the border.” He asked for the community’s patience “as we add additional staffing at our border.” Villagomez also said, “Our quarantine sites at PIC and Kanoa [hotels] are active.”                                                                                                   

Muna said the PCR test – the “gold standard” – is currently being used to test vaccinated arrivals. As to timing of a result, she told the Journal, “I believe we try to get it out within 12 hours.”

Muna also addressed the contract tracing capacity community wide. “We’re in a situation where we’re managing it well,” she said. Contact tracers will be introduced for positive cases at “the point of care” at the Commonwealth Healthcare Center, she said.

Muna confirmed to the paper there currently are no identified cases of the Omicron variant in the NMI, though she said, “That is likely going to be here.” Testing for variants are sent to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, she said though the CHC was looking at testing closer to home as Guam is now doing. Guam variant tests are sent to Hawaii.

The CHC reported an additional 65 confirmed COVID cases Jan. 6, of which 27 were identified via contract tracing, 29 via community testing and nine via travel testing, with 10 individuals hospitalized. The release said 96.1 of the eligible population is fully vaccinated. Booster shots are continuing in the NMI. Muna said while she does not believe it is possible the NMI will reach 100% vaccination status, “We are at a position where we are reaching herd immunity.”

In addition, she said, “None of those that have died have gotten their booster shots.” Close to 40% of eligible individuals have gotten booster shots, she said, with the CHC actively encouraging more to do so. “We are sending out reminders,” she said.

As to a question from the community via Facebook, Muna and Villagomez said regarding re-opening schools in the Public School System, it is not a CHC or task force decision. “PSS has their game plan and they push their recommendations,” Villagomez said. “It is an informative discussion,” he said. Muna said of a school population of 11,000 about 100 students have tested positive. 

“We are still in a surge,” Muna said at the media briefing. “We are looking at the cases,” she said. Many of the positive case were younger than 39 years of old, she said. “We are not seeing a lot from the older group in the 60s and 70s [years of age],” she said. However, she said with older individuals who might be staying home, “Sometimes it does enter the home somehow.”

As to tourist arrivals from Korea – who are tested before departure and on Day 5, “The positivity rate is really, really low in that group,” Muna said.

In relation to the NMI’s attitude to keeping the community at work and continuation of community events as much as possible, Muna told the Journal, “We have been putting a lot of messages about ‘living safe.’” Muna said with vaccinations the NMI is in a better position to deal with COVID than it was two years ago. There’s measures there [now],” she said. “We’ll continue to push the message.”

The CHC’s strategy she said was to “cover all bases.”

Guam reported 263 new cases, with 13 hospitalized patients on Jan. 6. The 18-39 years age group drove the recent spike in cases after Christmas, followed by the 40-59 age group and then teenagers, according to the Guam Department of Health and Social Services, which released that information Jan. 6.


South Korea continues exemption for NMI tourists

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency extended the quarantine exemption for the Northern Mariana Islands through Feb. 3, for passengers under the travel bubble agreement between the two destinations according to Priscilla M. Iakopo, managing director of the Marianas Visitors Authority, who confirmed the extension on Jan. 6 to the Journal. The quarantine requirement otherwise includes citizens and foreigners entering South Korea, who must quarantine for 10 days on arrival, regardless of their vaccination status.

Saipan will however continue to see a drop in flight arrivals.

Jeju Air plans to cease flights on the Busan-Saipan route Jan. 12, according to Korean media. This will leave Saipan with the prospect of flights resuming at the end of January from Incheon, Iakpo confirmed.  

T’way Air Co. provided two flights a week on the Incheon-Saipan route but decided to suspend them until Jan. 28, Korean media said. Iakpo expected flights to resume Jan. 26, she said.

Air Seoul Inc. – the LCC of Asiana Airlines Inc., delayed its planned flights to Guam from Jan. 29 to March 27, according to Korean media reports.

Asiana Airlines has moved its return to Guam to Jan. 30 from Dec. 23.

Korean Air continues to arrive and department twice weekly, according to Journal files.

Jeju Air Co., the country’s largest LLC, will continue to provide two flights a week on the Incheon-Guam route until Feb. 26. It had originally planned to provide four flights a week on the route from Jan. 27.

Carriers into Guam and Saipan have seen cancellations by passengers, according to Journal files.


Mamizu MACC task order and mask mandate reinstated at Guam bases

APTIM Construction JV LLC was awarded a $38.7 million task order Jan. 6 for the construction of a Police Station at Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz by Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Pacific.    

The award is through what is known as the Mamizu MACC – a $990 million Government of Japan funded multiple award construction contract.

APTIM is one of seven companies that were awarded the Mamizu MACC in January 2021, the others being Black Construction–Tutor Perini JV; the Caddell-Nan JV, Core Tech-HDCC-Kajima LLC; CWI-Weitz JV; and Gilbane SMCC ECC LLC, each of which will bid for task orders.

The 20,000 square foot police station includes space for operations, training and the criminal investigation division, as well as pass and identification services and has a completion date of 2024.

NAVFAC Pacific said at the time of the Mamizu MACC awards that its projects are due to be completed by January 2026.

In other military news all personnel on Department of Defense installations on Guam are required to wear a face covering “in congregate settings whether indoors or outdoors when social distancing cannot be maintained,” according to a Jan. 6 release from Joint Region Marianas, which attributed the action to the rapid rise in COVID cases.                     

“This policy is applicable to all military personnel stationed, assigned to temporary duty, or assigned to a visiting unit temporarily located in Guam, and to civilian dependents, contractors, and DoD civilian employees and visitors to DoD installations,” the release said.

U.S. Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base retain primary responsibility for the management of declared public health emergencies at their instillations. “Unit commanders retain discretion to implement more restrictive policies in line with preserving public health or operational necessity,” the release said.


And finally …

Established visa management business includes NMI in offerings

Traveling to the Northern Mariana Islands? Traveling in a hurry?  www.ivisa.com says it can help.

It just costs a little cash for a Standard Procedure in seven days ($20); a Rush Procedure in five days, $35; and a Super Rush Procedure of three days ($60).

“The Northern Mariana Islands, officially the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, are a group of islands belonging to the United States of America but existing as an independent territory. These islands have their own government. but they are strictly linked to United States law,” ivisa.com says in its 1,000-some word description. “You can play golf with amazing views of the sea, try your luck in a casino, go scuba diving or just relax on the beach.”

(Well, mostly correct.)

“Before planning your trip to this place, you shouldn’t forget about the Northern Mariana Islands Mandatory Declaration Form,” ivisa.com says – frequently – as it offers its services.

  “… you won’t need to spend more than 15 minutes completing a short questionnaire. We suggest applying for the Northern Mariana Islands Mandatory Declaration Form before finishing the last details of your trip. This way, you won’t have any issues when traveling to this commonwealth area.”

Or you can go to www.staysafecnmi.com and fill in the form for free.


For your diary:

Cope North 2022 will be at hosted at Andersen Air Force Base from Feb 2. to Feb. 18 with exercises to include those in Tinian. According to the U.S. Air Force, which released the information Jan. 4, about 3,500 personnel are estimated to take part, to include personnel from Japan and Australia. mbj