1st COVID-19 death in Guam

US territory has 12 new COVID-19 cases, 27 in total
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Posted on Mar 23 2020

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Guam has the unfortunate distinction of having the first death due to COVID-19 in the Pacific. This, after the U.S. territory’s Joint Information Center reported that a 68-year-old patient with underlying health issues, compounded with COVID-19, died at the Guam Memorial Hospital yesterday at 1:30am.

The patient was originally admitted to GMH on March 15 and remained in isolation throughout the week. The patient was among one of Guam’s initial COVID-19 patients.

The patient had no recent travel history before contracting the virus, but initial investigations indicated the patient may have contracted it from someone who did. The JIC report did not indicate the gender of the patient.

As this developed, the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services said that 12 individuals tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday, bringing Guam’s total to 27 positive cases, with one COVID-19-related death. All 26 remaining confirmed cases are in isolation.

A total of 153 tests were performed in Guam from March 12, 2020, through March 22, 2020, with conclusive results.

DPHSS also said that, based on a contact investigation, at least two individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 frequented the Håfa Adai Bingo Hall in Tamuning.

As a precautionary measure, all individuals who visited the Håfa Adai Bingo Hall between March 6 and March 16 are asked to self-quarantine at home. Should any of these individuals experience flu-like symptoms, immediately contact the Medical Triage Hotline for screening at: (671) 480-7859; (671) 480-6760/3; (671) 480-7883; and (671) 687-6170 (ADA dedicated number).

Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, along with her chief medical advisers, Dr. Mike Cruz and Dr. Joleen Aguon, urged everyone to stay home, exercise good hygiene, wash your hands, and practice social distancing by maintaining a physical distance of 6 feet between yourselves and others. Though these measures are not dramatic, they are the most effective things we can do to combat the spread of COVID-19, she said.

Leon Guerrero also met with her Physicians Advisory Group, a group of bipartisan community physicians committed to stopping the spread of COVID-19 through coordination and expert advice.

DPHSS, along with health care providers, various government of Guam agencies, and its military counterparts are working to contain the spread of the virus.

Currently, the hospital staff that cared for the patient, and any COVID-19 confirmed patients, are on a strict monitoring, checking in regularly with updates regarding any signs or symptoms. Health officials will continue to screen all who have come in contact with COVID-19 confirmed patients.

Torres extends condolences

With Guam’s first confirmed death due to COVID-19, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres issued a statement that read, “Lt. Gov. [Arnold I.] Palacios and I, along with our Commonwealth, extend our deepest condolences to the family of the first COVID-19 related death [in] Guam. Our thoughts and prayers are with Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, her administration, and the people of Guam.”

Torres stated that he is in close contact with Leon Guerrero over the last week, and was asssured that her administration is doing everything they can to protect Guam. In addition, through their partnership, Guam has allowed the CNMI to continue to send specimens for COVID-19 testing.

Torres advises CNMI residents to do their part to stay at home, avoid unnecessary travel except trips to the grocery store and picking up food and medication.

“Marianas, we need to take this seriously. Please stay home and avoid contact with our man’amko and our loved ones with pre-existing illnesses. They are most at risk for severe illness from the COVID-19 virus,” he said.

Torres stated that this is the time to stay vigilant and to not fear or panic. “If we work together and stay informed and help each other, we can overcome this virus.”

“As one Marianas, we have remained resilient in the face of the worst storms and economic downturns, and we emerged stronger because we made the necessary choice to work together. Lt. Gov. Palacios and I will continue to work with CHCC CEO Esther Muñna, our health experts, our COVID-19 Task Force, and our Legislature,» said Torres.

CHCC to get testing machine

Commonwealth Health Care Corp. chief operating officer Subroto Benerji said they expect to receive the ABI 7500 machine, which is needed for COVID-19 testing, in late March. It will be readily available for testing in late April.

Guam Public Health Lab is currently the only COVID-19 testing lab for Guam and the CNMI.

With the machine, it will help the CNMI get COVID-19 results faster than waiting for Guam Public Health Lab. According to Benerji, it’s pointless having the test kits at this point without the machine.

CHCC is currently renovating a laboratory to a certain level, following the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment guidelines, in order to allow the machine to work properly.

“It’s very critical that we do the right thing and not just plug in the equipment and let it run,” said Muna. “If we do that, we’re risking it and the staff could get harmed.”

The testing process for COVID-19 is, first, a clinician will swab, which is called the nasopharyngeal swab, and it will be inserted through the nose, then it will be put into a testing kit, which then is put into the ABI 7500, and then wait several hours for the results.

The governor’s Task Force has also identified Century Hotel in Garapan as one of the facilities that will be used as an isolation for patients under investigation for COVID-19.

According to Muña, using a hotel to facilitate those who are under investigation is a better option since hotels are equipped with beds, commode, and the ability for somebody to be sanitized and to be able to house themselves without risking anyone.

Using hotels to facilitate patients under investigation for COVID-19 is also a good option since there are only approximately 76 beds at CHC. This will help the hospital focus on those who need urgent medical attention.

According to Muña, PUIs will get registered by CHCC under the Text Illness Monitoring system.

CHCC staff can also register patients who wish to be under the TIM system.

Justine Nauta
Justine Nauta is Saipan Tribune's community and health reporter and has covered a wide range of news beats, including the Northern Marianas College and Commonwealth Health Care Corp. She's currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Rehabilitation and Human Services at NMC.

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