With the 14-day mandatory quarantine set for people entering the CNMI, the Commonwealth Office of Transit Authority’s entire fleet has been activated to safely transport individuals coming from off-island to Kanoa Resort, the designated quarantine facility.
“Currently, we are availing [of] COTA’s entire fleet to fulfill our vital ESF-1 Function in the COVID-19 Task Force. That is two mini-buses and eight passenger vans,” Joe Pangelinan told Saipan Tribune. He is the COTA Operations and Mobility coordinator.
COTA gets its passenger counts daily, straight from the Division of Customs, and then adjusts its fleet and manpower to ensure safe and expedient transport to the Quarantine Zone.
“COTA understands that this is a difficult but necessary situation for all these passengers to be put in,” Pangelinan added. “We ensure that our vehicles are staged and ready for their luggage’s to be loaded as quickly as possible and for them to immediately board and be transported to the Quarantine Zone well ahead of time. We feel this will only make their transition an easier one as they play their role in keeping the CNMI COVID-19 free.”
The safety of all passengers and personnel is of utmost importance, and Pangelinan assures that COTA has taken every precaution, through planning and preparation, to ensure this every time COTA is activated to carry out its role in the COVID-19 Task Force.
“We have provided all of our personnel protective eyewear and masks, and have been given essential [personal protective equipment] such as gloves and protective suits from FEMA/Homeland Security that our personnel wear at all times during COVID-19 Operations,” he said.
“We have also (internally) sectioned off our driver’s cabin from the rest of the vehicle, with a thick plastic; creating one more layer of protection for our drivers,” Pangelinan added.
For passenger’s safety, all of COTA’s staff are Passenger Assistance Safety and Sensitivity-certified, and are equipped to handle any elderly, special needs, or non-ambulatory wheelchair rider(s) at all times.
“Once on our vehicles, we ensure they have their seatbelts on; and for the health of all passengers, we have all of our windows open where air can freely flow within the passenger cabin,” he said.
Strength in partnership
“We cannot state this enough, COTA is not alone in this endeavor,” Pangelinan said, adding that COTA works with the Commonwealth Ports Authority, Division of Customs, Department of Public Heath, Commonwealth Health Care Corp., CNMI Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management, Department of Public Safety, and the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, among others, to ensure that both the passengers and drivers are “as safe as they can be, every step of the way.”
According to Pangelinan, the CPA Ports Police officers ensures that COTA’s operations are always protected in any situation that may occur when loading passengers at the airport.
“We have a DFEMS representative in each of our vehicles that is there to inform the passengers of everything that is happening, and that is about to happen and, if any health issue should occur during transport, they would be the first responders to make sure that passenger is okay,” he added.
DPS also assists, escorting COTA from each staging point, ensuring the convoys are always safe, and allowing COTA to get to the Quarantine Zone as quickly as possible.
“Once we get to the Quarantine Zone, DPH and CHCC staff is there to transfer all passengers safely and smoothly into the mandated 14-day period, also assuring the safety of the people of the CNMI by being ready and able to identify any case or symptom if they arise.”
Alfreda P. Camacho, the special assistant for Public Transportation, describes the whole process as a “true team effort,” with the overarching mission to protect the people of the CNMI.
“With all the hard work from every single agency involved, we will continue carrying out that mission every day,” said Camacho.