8 local cases of COVID-19 ID’d

Posted on Mar 15 2021

Breaking the 204-day streak of zero community transmissions, the CNMI saw its first community cases of COVID-19 in a while over the weekend when eight asymptomatic people tested positive for COVID-19, boosting the CNMI’s cumulative total from 146 last Thursday to 154 yesterday.

In a press statement yesterday, the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. said all new positive cases were identified after contact tracing and testing a total of 49 immediate contacts of the first case and the other positive cases. “As of 9:35am, March 14, 2021, CHCC and the COVID-19 Task Force have identified 49 individuals through expanded contact tracing. All 49 contacts have been safely isolated away from the community. Contact tracing will continue to identify high-risk contacts and to isolate them away from the community,” the statement said.

At this point, CHCC assured that it’s not seeing an instance of widespread community transmission. “The concern right now is providing care to the individuals and potential individuals exposed to COVID-19. Early identification will help to protect our community,” the statement added.

Toward this end, CHCC will be offering COVID-19 testing at Kanoa Resort Alternate Care Site in Susupe from today, March 15, to March 19 from 1pm to 4pm. This will be a free community-based testing, but an identification card is required to enter the site. 

Speaking at an emergency press conference last Saturday, CHCC chief executive officer Esther Muña said the 147th case—a front-liner—was identified through outbound travel testing last Friday. The individual did not show any symptoms and had already been fully vaccinated.

Muña said this means that even after being fully vaccinated does not mean that a person will not get the virus.

The 147th case is not a traveler but has a history of being in contact with those who are arriving in the CNMI, Muña said, adding that they confirmed the 147th case after three tests.

By 10pm last Friday, contact tracing identified 10 high-risk contacts who were transported to the Kanoa Resort. On March 13 at 8am testing for all 10 contacts was conducted. Two hours later, three out of 10 individuals tested positive for COVID-19. This then raised the cumulative total to 150, and, according to CHCC, all three additional cases (148, 149, and 150) are closely related to the 147th case.

Ten more additional high-risk contacts were linked to the 147th case andf they were then isolated and swabbed for COVID-19. At this point, there were 20 high-risk contacts that were identified for case 147.

According to a statement from the Governor’s COVID-19 Task Force, 29 more high-risk contacts were identified: 15 high-risk contacts for the 148th case, and 14 contacts for the 149th and 150th cases. Of these, four asymptomatic people tested positive for COVID-19, raising the CNMI’s total to 154.

As of yesterday, CHCC and the COVID-19 Task Force have identified 49 individuals through expanded contact tracing. All 49 contacts have been safely isolated, while contact tracing will continue to identify high-risk contacts and isolate them.

As of 6pm yesterday, Muña confirmed that the CNMI is not at high-risk of community transmission.

Community lockdown

As far as going into lockdown, Muña said that after discussions with the CHCC medical team, they do not feel that it is necessary at this time.

“But, of course, that’s up to the governor. We are not suggesting that a lockdown is necessary. We have the tools to contain this, and we have the testing capability to identify and contain this,” Muña said, adding that the CNMI is “better equipped and better prepared.”

As the CNMI continues to see inbound travelers, Muña assured that the two most recent flights have tested negative for COVID-19.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres assured the community that everything CHCC, the task force, and the administration has been doing shows that the CNMI is still the “safest place in the U.S.”

Torres also urges the community to continue to follow the administration’s COVID-19 directives, and to refrain from disseminating false or incomplete information.

The Governor’s COVID-19 Task Force also dispels all speculations going around the community via WhatsApp messages about the recent cases. According to press secretary Kevin Bautista, the CNMI is advised to stop spreading misinformation regarding businesses or individuals who are involved with the contact tracing.

COVID-19 Task Force chair Warren Villagomez said there is no discussion to expand the curfew hours, which is currently from 2am to 4am. Meanwhile, the American Memorial Park has closed down its pathways and beach area, it is not clear if it’s related to the recent COVID-19 case.

As for locking down the airport, Villagomez said border control is under the U.S. Department of Transportation. “We have no control over inbound flights, especially of U.S. carriers. But we have a system in place to safeguard the community,” said Villagomez.

He is also urging community members not to “start rumors,” and that they “have a plan, and they are implementing it.”

Muña said that more clarity regarding COVID-19 testing dates, sites and procedures will be provided to community members toda,. Additionally, she said in a text message to Saipan Tribune that open testing will be provided today.

Justine Nauta | Correspondent
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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