GUAM’S COVID-19 BATTLE
With the continuing surge of COVID-19 cases in Guam, the territory’s government officials and health care workers have been on a heightened mode of alert ever since the declaration of public health emergency in Guam last March and that posture hasn’t changed.
In the virtual “Conversation with U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams MD on COVID19” last week, Guam Public Health director Arthur San Agustin said that the months of August, September, and October have been the most challenging period among Guamanians. As of Thursday last week, a total of 4,903 people have tested positive for the virus. That’s 7% of the 65,059 people who have already been tested (44% of the Guam community) The positive case count in March was 77 but that went up to 92 in June, then 95 in July. In August, the positive case count exponentially increased to 1,085, which is approximately a 1,000% increase and spiked further in September to 1,108 and literally doubled in October to 2,209.
“We have seen surges in hospitals. …We have created a rapid engagement team to respond and identify why we have been getting 117 positive cases in a span of three days and, more importantly, provide intervention in containing and control the spread of the virus,” he said.
To tamp down the prevent spread, San Agustin said that Public Health and its many partners—both traditional and non-traditional—are working together. “There are many opinions and approaches. …The people working in the response is fueled by dedication, commitment, and honor to serve our community in this great time of need against this invisible enemy,” he said. “COVID-19 has brought various disciplines to the forefront because of its impact on the social and mental health and economic devastation. …Our health care system, emotional and mental wellbeing, and our economic security are being challenged.”
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams said that the number of people with COVID-19 in Guam is high and the case is the same in the U.S. mainland. “We are feeling the pain too. …COVID-19 cases are rising in other parts of the United States and Europe. …The increase in positive cases is an overall indicator of community spread,” he said. “…A great concern is that hospitals in Guam are nearing its capacity. … Last statistic I heard is that 30% of the island is currently unemployed because of the virus. Many of you are experiencing pandemic fatigue and it’s a real thing, including isolation, loss of celebration, and comforts. …That fatigue also increases our chances of contracting and spreading the virus, which prolongs our pain and increases the length of time that we need to shut down.”
Despite these, Adams said this is a time to focus on what works. “…Guam is clearly in the COVID-19 crosshairs now. Let me say with confidence that with your effort to combat this virus before, I am certain that you can regain control of this virus once again. We talked about you in the [U.S.] mainland as really the exemplars for how to control this virus,” he said. “You are who we brag about on the coronavirus task force and I know you can do this yet again. You just need the confidence and the will to do it. A strong community is a tremendous asset.”
According to Adams, the U.S. is likely to have one or more vaccines for COVID-19 before the end of this year. “These are proven safe and effective… and ready for distribution first to those most at risk. Over the coming months, our aim is to vaccinate millions of Americans, extending protection from COVID-19 across the continent and the Pacific. …We will need your help to [address] any concern Guamanians and other folks on island has about vaccine safety and efficacy to ensure equitable and easy access when the time comes,” he said. “It will be a real shame and a tragedy if we had a cure for this virus with a safe and effective vaccine but we weren’t able to stop it in Guam because we weren’t able to get people to accept this vaccine.”
Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said the past eight months had them focused on battling the largest crisis in the world. “That’s why we have been engaged in the largest public health response in our history. …This virus does not care about our age, race, or gender and has brought even the strongest among us to their knees. …I know many of us are tired and we long for our life before COVID-19 but that mindset will be our downfall,” she said. “I know it’s hard to feel that we have made progress at all but in April just seven months ago, the Federal Emergency Management Agency predicted that Guam could see as many as 26,000 cases but our actual number is 4,500. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s same model predicted that COVID-19 hospitalization would peak at 3,000 in June; our actual number in October is less than a hundred.”
Leon Guerrero said her administration’s sole mission is to save as many lives as possible and prevent a time when the number of people infected will grow so large so quickly. “Surviving this virus does not mean going back to business as usual. It means adopting best practices to protect ourselves and our community for the foreseeable future. This is difficult and it will a be a test unlike any that we have seen before but I know our people and I know that we will get through this,” she said.