NMI gets positive reactions to dropping on-arrival testing; holds forum on COVID
Leadership of the Northern Mariana Islands gathered Feb. 11 for a protocol forum on COVID-19, to update the community and discuss the situation “moving forward,” Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres said at a Feb. 11 press conference. Before tourist numbers grow, he said the NMI will make sure there are protocols in place.
As of Feb. 11, the NMI is seeing a daily average of 210 cases, or 390 per 100,000 – an increase of 294% per 14 days. This compared to Guam as of Feb. 11, which is a daily average of 641 cases, or 380 per 100,000 – an increase of 1% per 14 days.
As of Feb. 8, travelers entering the Northern Mariana Islands will no longer be tested on arrival, the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. announced Feb. 8.
“The surveillance of COVID-19 at the border is not the best predictor of the impact COVID-19 has on the CNMI’s health care system, and the CNMI will shift to focus on medically significant community infections,” the CHCC said.
Travelers are still required to complete a mandatory health declaration form and upload their vaccination card. Travelers are encouraged to fill out their health declaration form prior to arrival at www.staysafecnmi.com. For travelers vaccinated outside the CNMI, in addition to the CDC Vaccination Record Card, an official immunization record or an attestation statement may be required by the CHCC Communicable Disease Investigation/Inspection team.
“Fully vaccinated travelers should continue to wear a well-fitted mask if they must be around others and if they develop symptoms, should get tested at least five days after arrival. Fully vaccinated travelers wishing to avail of 5th-day testing must register at a Community-Based Testing site,” the release said.
Unvaccinated travelers should quarantine at home for at least five days and wear a well-fitted mask if they must be around others. Unvaccinated travelers are required to get tested five days after arrival at a Community-Based Testing site. If the traveler receives a positive result, the traveler must isolate for an additional five full days. For travelers whose final destination is either Rota or Tinian, their 5th-day test may be scheduled at their respective final destination’s health center.
There are Community-Based testing sites at the Marianas Resort and at the Koblerville Community Center.
Warren Villagomez, chairman of the COVID-19 task force, said while numbers continue high in the NMI, “We’re getting people tested; we’re getting results back; we’re keeping a close watch on all the resources we have.”
In view of the new arrival guidelines, Villagomez said there is not a need for multiple quarantine facilities. “We’ll be closing out PIC.” The Marianas Resort is being used by the Department of Corrections which has its own surge. Once that has dropped, he said, the only site that will remain open is the Kanoa Resort. “There is a lot of therapeutic medication we have on hand.” The NMI is shifting to home quarantines rather than government quarantines, he said.
Dropping on-arrival testing has been well-received, Villagomez said.
“We’re getting good comments all over the region – not just from United.”
In other news, Torres said he will leave final decisions on Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC to the Commonwealth Casino Commission.
“Whatever they decide to do, they will have due diligence on what their action is,” the governor said.
IPI stands to lose its exclusive license after non-payment of its 2021 $15.5 million license fee, or its 2021 $3.1 million regulatory fee or contribute to the community benefit fund, or pay its vendors. IPI has also been the defendant in various lawsuits. IPI’s license is currently suspended and there have been calls for its exclusive license status to end.
Torres also said the Republican Party was considering its candidate for Congressional delegate. After that he said, “We’ll go from there.”
Little good news from GVB; agency plans webinar
Due to Omicron, visitors to Guam have only reached 73% of forecasts, creating a $6 million shortfall of funding for the first quarter of the fiscal year, according to Gerald S.A. Perez, vice president of the Guam Visitors Bureau.
During a Feb. 10 board meeting, Perez also announced that all source market arrivals are up compared to last year, for a total of 30,861 visitors from Oct. 1 to Jan. 31. However, Guam is not expected to see arrivals above 10,000 until July, he said.
For the future, he said, “We’re going to assume that we’re going to have a pickup of arrivals in the third and fourth quarters.” The board will seek additional funding for a tourism restart.
Perez also said that GVB’s vaccination program is on hold, waiting for more visitors before continuing it with the current supply and the $5 million leftover from funding.
In other GVB news, the bureau is holding a webinar on Feb. 22, #HereWeGuam webinar, which is meant to unite all shareholders and discuss the new recovery travel strategy and GVB’s ideas for 2022.
Guam employers could face unemployment payments; a maybe on reducing BPT
“We are exploring all options,” Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero said of unemployment insurance for Guam. “But this pandemic has really shown to us the importance of unemployment insurance,” she told the Journal at a Feb. 9 press conference. “… So we’re looking at trust funds, we’re looking at ways that maybe the government can subsidize it and maybe there might be a partnership with the public sector and the private sector to subsidize – we’re not right now at the stage of just making a decision as to how it could be funded. But we are in discussions, with the Department of Labor also, and some key people in our team.”
While the governor said there are reasons for optimism in Guam’s economy – such as revenues in excess of projections, a solid construction industry, and more – she is not yet rushing to reduce the island’s Business Privilege Tax. “We are looking at that; we’re not looking at returning it right back, but as our numbers stabilize … I’m not closed to that situation. If there’s any way we can help our small businesses, we will.”
The LEAP program has helped some 900 small businesses she said. “I will probably add more to it because we’re seeing more need. I am not averse at all to working with the small businesses and I have worked with the small businesses.” Leon Guerrero said once revenues reached the point where they would cover the reduction of BPT, she would certainly look at it. “Of course, we have to make sure we have enough for debt service, and we have to make sure we have enough for capital improvement projects moving forward, but I just want people to know I’m very openminded about situations like that.”
Leon Guerrero is not only concentrating on Eagle’s Field in Mangilao as the location for a new hospital for the island but told the Journal that the administration has retained a planning consultant.
After her trip to San Francisco and Washington, D.C. in late January and early February, the governor said she had met with Vice Adm. Jon A. Hill, director of the Missile Defense Agency. “He has assured me that the commitment of the Secretary of the Navy for land in the Eagle’s Field area is being honored.” The governor is asking for a 99-year lease, she said.
“We will move forward with the negotiations, which I understand started back again this week.” She told the Journal that those negotiations are taking place on Guam – with Melanie Mendiola, CEO and administrator of the Guam Economic Development Authority and Joint Region Marianas as leads.
Mendiola told the Journal on Feb. 11 that the Matrix Group had been contracted through GEDA, because it completed a hospital study some years earlier. “The thought of the governor was that study could do with some updating.” Matrix were able to bring in the Atriax Group, which offers planning, design, construction and related services according to its website – and which also has experience in medical consulting, Mendiola said. “Atriax and Matrix were here in November and the major focus was to work with the Medical Services Subcommittee (of the task force for the medical campus),” Mendiola said. While Atriax and Matrix looked at sites also for the campus, Mendiola said, “We asked them to fast track the GMH portion.”
A draft report is expected this month, she said, pending further details from the U.S. Census Bureau. “From there, there’s a stakeholder meeting that takes place after that,” she said.
Landowners in Mangilao, may or may not receive compensation. The governor said she would talk to the Department of Land Management, and that the Guam Legislature may be able to allocate compensation if that is required.
At the National Governors Association winter meeting from Jan. 29 to Jan. 31, Leon Guerrero said discussions included the infrastructure bill with Secretary of Transportation.
“The main takeaway there is flexibility of use of the funds and that this infrastructure bill enhances about 395 existing programs that deal with utilities, that deal with cyber-security, deal with climate change.” The governor said in addition there are about 275 new programs. Grant applications would be competitive, she said. “There’s a lot of opportunities for our island to take …,” she said, including electric vehicles. The Guam Department of Public Works could apply for electric buses she said, potentially as many as 50, which would save on gas and on maintenance.
States and territories were recommended to create an “infrastructure taskforce and have the chair of that taskforce be the infrastructure coordinator. … It really is a needed position because there’s just so many programs and so many grants and so many funding sources in this infrastructure bill,” Leon Guerrero said. “I’m already establishing that committee and we’re also already looking at who would be a good infrastructure coordinator. It would be government agencies. We haven’t yet talked about private [sector] involvement, but if we did have private involvement they would probably be around technology, utilities and issues with climate change.”
The governor said one of her initiatives is to automate the government and that the bill is “certainly a source of funding we could use to make that happen.”
In relation to the digitization of the permitting and licensing process, she said, “I am optimistic it will happen this year.”
Of the meeting with the Interagency Group on Insular Affairs, the governor said she concluded, “There are a lot of programs and grants again; they also informed us of certain grants that are particular to our island …”
More may be shared next month. Leon Guerrero confirmed to the paper that she will again deliver a State of the Island Address in March, likely in the first or second week.
USCIS clarifies temporary need exemption for Guam and NMI
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has issued a policy guidance alert “to clarify how a petitioner may demonstrate that it qualifies for an exemption from the temporary need requirement for a nonimmigrant visa petition for a temporary nonagricultural H-2B worker on Guam and in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) that falls under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021.”
The alert “explains that housing development projects, in addition to infrastructure improvements, are likely to qualify for employment of H-2B workers under the NDAA exemption, given an inherent need for additional housing capacity to support the military realignment.” It also recognizes that there is significant evidence that the military realignment has had an adverse impact on the availability of necessary construction labor on Guam.” Finally, the alert “Clarifies that USCIS would generally consider a signed letter from a Guam Department of Labor (Guam DOL) official describing the adverse effect of the military realignment, along with a detailed explanation or other evidence that credibly demonstrates how unavailability of construction workers has had a negative impact, sufficient to demonstrate an adverse effect, in the absence of facts indicating otherwise.”
Michael F.Q. San Nicolas, Guam’s delegate to Congress, advised of the alert in a Feb. 9 release, also thanking federal officials, the Guam Department of Labor and members of the Asia Pacific American Caucus for their part in bringing the issue to “attention for action,” together with acknowledgment of his part in those efforts.
Readers can find the policy alert here:
In other USCIS news, USCIS announced its updated mission statement on Feb. 10, which is, “USCIS upholds America’s promise as a nation of welcome and possibility with fairness, integrity, and respect for all we serve.”
Vehicle safety advisory:
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advised Feb. 9 that owners of select Model Year 2014-2016 Kia Sportage, 2016-2018 Kia K900 and 2016-2018 Hyundai Santa Fe vehicles should park their cars outside and away from homes, even if the vehicle is turned off, until their vehicles have been repaired, due to a new recall for the risk of fire.
Kia and Hyundai have identified an increasing risk of an engine compartment fire. Although the cause remains unknown, the manufacturers believe an electrical component in the anti-lock brake system may experience an internal electrical short circuit that could increase the risk of fire both while the vehicle is being driven or parked.
The Kia recall notice is available here, and the Hyundai recall notice is available here.
Vehicle owners can visit NHTSA.gov/recalls and enter their 17-digit vehicle identification number to see if their vehicle is under recall. If it is, vehicle owners should call their dealership immediately to schedule a free repair.
Humanities Guahan awarded nine non-profits in Guam a total of $170,000 in grant funding through the Sustaining the Humanities through the ARP Act Emergency Relief Grant Program, made possible by funding from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 through the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Awardees through $90,000 in SHARP grants for Cultural and Humanities non-profits are Duk Duk Goose Inc., the Guam International Film Festival Inc., Inetnon Gef Pa’go Cultural Arts Program Inc. Pacific Historic Parks and Ta Tuge’ Mo’na.
Awardees through $80,000 in SHARP grants for other non-profits included Breaking Wave Theatre Co. Inc., the Guam Philharmonic Foundation Inc., I Hagan Famalao’an Guahan Inc. and the Micronesia Climate Change Alliance.
Grant awards varied by amount and (for example) included $20,000 to the Micronesia Climate Change Alliance and $10,000 to the Guam Philharmonic Foundation Inc. (For more information on the Guam Philharmonic and its plans, see below).
The Journal welcomes news from non-profits around the islands, as well as information on upcoming events, to include in the Marianas Business Journal Community Calendar.
Contact [email protected] to list your event. Readers wishing to check if an event date is free may also continue to do so. The MBJ Community Calendar is maintained as a public service.
Guam Philharmonic announces fall program
On its 5th anniversary, the Guam Philharmonic Foundation Inc. in collaboration with World Theater Productions will present the musical Miss Saigon in Guam this coming Fall 2022, according to a release from the foundation.
“World Theater Productions, led by Executive Producer Margarita Dancel, has presented popular favorites like Les Misérables School Edition, RENT, and Mamma Mia. Thanks to the support of audience members and Guam’s business community, these shows were able generate funds for local charities including the Guam Homeless Coalition and the University of Guam Endowment Foundation,” the release said.
For more information on partnerships, sponsorships, advertising opportunities or becoming a charity beneficiary, please contact [email protected] or [email protected].
For actors: The production is accepting video auditions until March 31. Email [email protected], with a Curriculum Vitae/Résumé, a headshot, audition video and a link or file. Successful candidates will be invited for call backs. mbj