In two months, the CNMI could be welcoming tourists back into the island.
At yesterday’s unveiling of what it describes as a “community-focused” economic recovery plan for the CNMI, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres set July 15 as the projected date to reopen the Commonwealth to tourists.
“One thing for sure is that we’re looking at changes along the way. … As we roll out, our business is going to be different. We ask our community to be patient, to understand that we want to open up our community, our tourism, our business partners, but we want to do it in a manner where we can all adjust together,” Torres said.
The plan, prepared through the Governor’s COVID-19 Economic Task Force, with the Marianas Visitors Authority, the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, and business leaders in the CNMI, outlines a phased approach toward resuming economic activity in the CNMI, while still ensuring the public’s safety.
Reopening the CNMI back to tourists means calibrating the way in which businesses operate on the islands, from the strict enforcement of social distancing and hygiene protocols, to installation of thermal scanners in large entrances, to ensure everyone’s protection and safety.
Another key component is the mass testing being administered by the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. According to CHCC chief executive officer Esther Muña, surveillance, and knowing the real number of COVID-19 cases in the community, is significant if the CNMI is to open and start lifting the antivirus measures that are now in place.
“The numbers are important. We need to know who’s infected, and also look at the percentage of the positives…and right now we are getting to that…bringing that confidence for you and for the customers that you serve, and the people here in the community, and the visitors that are going to come here,” she added.
To reopen safely, CHCC needs to be confident with the numbers, Muña said. To date, CHCC has collected almost 3,000 specimens through the community-based testing. The CNMI has an estimated population of 50,000.
Semblance of safety
The plan provides for how businesses can mitigate the risks, and limit the spread of COVID-19, as their operations resume. This include requiring customers and employees to wear masks, the encouragement of testing throughout the workplace and community networks, and connecting onsite monitoring with health care mitigation and quarantine procedures.
It also includes guidance and requirements, such as putting limitations on occupancy and distance between individuals, strict implementation of social distancing through 6-foot increment marking wherever lines form at business premises.
It also includes posting of signs, avoiding physical contact, thermal monitoring, providing sanitizers, and developing policies for the identification and isolation of sick staff and customers.
Saipan Chamber of Commerce board member Alex Sablan said the point is to ensure that all these mitigation measures are in place in order for everyone to feel safe.
“We are going to ask that we put in a rigid process so that we ensure everybody remains relatively safe, whether they are within their own homes but also within the community. …We look toward the July 15 timeline in opening up the economy to tourism once we have all of these protocols…laid out,” he added.
The group is looking at a grant to put some cost mechanism in place that will require origin testing for tourists leaving their country and origin testing upon arrival in the Commonwealth.
“As every jurisdiction in the United States and around the world is doing, we’re all trying to get our economies going so people can be gainfully employed, and our people can get back to work,” he added.
The new norm
According to Sablan, the new norm is going to include continued social distancing and limited occupancy within businesses that will be able to open up. Businesses are being asked to cooperate, particularly since the group is looking into mandating thermal imaging within large business corridors within public spaces, and a monitoring process to be put in place.
“We’re talking about asking people to take temperatures at doorways, provide hand sanitizer, sanitizing facilities, surface sanitizing at all times…that’s going to be [the] continued norm. …We’re going to be inconvenienced. We’re going to have to add costs, but we have to put some semblance of safety, the safety net in place, for our people on the ground,” he said.
“We are going to be looking at increasing the cost and inconvenience to some of these businesses, but again in consideration, it’s a small price to pay to save the community,” he added.
July 15 is a proposed date only and it may still be changed, depending on public health recommendations of CHCC.