Over 50% of fully vaccinated travelers composed of a mix of returning residents and visitors enter the CNMI per United Airlines flight from Guam, according to Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. CEO Esther Muña during the Saipan Chamber of Commerce general membership meeting last week.
She acknowledged that about 25% to 40% of travelers entering the CNMI are unvaccinated, based on evidence and data collected from mandatory health declaration form required to be filled up with supporting documents upon entry to the CNMI.
This, she said, is why border protection in the CNMI is still in place. “We are aware that there are still risks with people coming as the variants are still out there. Some are more transmissible especially of you are not vaccinated. …That is why we continue with data collection, evaluate and re-evaluate our situation as we continue to strongly protect our border,” she said.
For travelers that are fully vaccinated, the process is much quicker: They get tested at the airport, get their bags, and walk out without having to go into quarantine. There are still rules that must be followed, though.
As of June 24, CNMI quarantine protocol vary depending on how the World Health Organization designated the risk level of the place where you’re coming from. It starts at Level 1, which means low risk (where the CNMI is currently at), and increases to Level 4 (which means very high risk for COVID-19).
If you’re coming from a Level 1 jurisdiction and if vaccination is verified, there is no test upon arrival, but you will undergo lodging assessment (if passed, there will be no quarantine; if not, you will be required to self-monitor). On Day 5, you will undergo testing (verified vaccinated individuals are eligible for expedited testing) and if the result is negative, the arrival protocol is deemed completed.
For those coming from a Level 1 jurisdiction but are not vaccinated or are unverified vaccinated, there is no test upon arrival, but you will proceed to government quarantine. You will then undergo a test on Day 5 and, if negative, arrival protocol is completed. If not, you will undergo isolation at a government quarantine facility.
If your place of origin is at Level 2 or more, a test is required upon arrival for both vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers. After passing a lodging assessment, vaccinated travelers will not go through quarantine, but will undergo Day 5 testing. If negative of COVID-19, arrival protocol is complete. Unvaccinated travelers will go to government quarantine, undergo 5th day test and if negative of COVID-19, arrival protocol is complete.
Muña praised the hard work that both the COVID-19 Task Force and community have put into achieving Level Green on the Community Vulnerability Scale (the safest level) and reaching a 60% vaccination rate at such a fast clip.
“When we reached 60% vaccination rate and changed to Level Green, we immediately looked at achieving 70% based on how this community has been successful in achieving herd immunity. In some ways, you can take-off your masks in the office because all of your staff has been vaccinated,” she said. “…Yes. we are worried about the border but our community is good. …With more people getting vaccinated in the CNMI, we can honestly say and with evidence that, yes, it is safe.”
Aside from strengthening border protection, the COVID-19 Task Force is not letting its guard down, especially with protecting children. To date, children 12 years old and up can get the vaccine. “The Centers for Disease and Prevention Center is working hard to get to the next level of vaccination and I know that there are discussions about vaccines on children 3 years old and above…but, again, making these children wear masks is a another layer of safety, coupled with practicing social distancing and washing hands,” COVID-19 Task Force chair Warren Villagomez said.
“When we get to 80%, or herd immunity, we are going to be sitting down, re-evaluating again this higher level of normalcy,” he added.
Muna added that there is a program that they will be testing and working with schools at the end of July or early August to give children accessibility to the vaccines.
For their part, Frankie Eliptico vice president of advancement and administration at the Northern Marianas College, said the NMC Board of Regents recently voted to make vaccination for incoming students in the fall a requirement if they will attend the in-person classes.
“We already partnered with them [COVID-19 Task Force and CHCC] for the past several months, we have had multiple vaccination events on campus and I think it will be better for all if we continue to advance that. I hope we can partner again in the coming weeks to make the vaccine more accessible, especially to our incoming students who have just graduated from high school and are starting the semester with NMC,” he added.
According to the CHCC website, as of July 9, the CNMI needs 1,677 more vaccinated people (12 years old and up) to reach 70% by September and 5, 915 people needed (12 years old and up) to reach 80% and thus achieve herd immunity.