A few days after the World Health Organization announced that the COVID-19 outbreak is a pandemic, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres declared the CNMI on March 16 under a State of Significant Emergency and a state of Public Health, in order to protect the health and safety of CNMI residents, businesses, and visitors.
Arlene Mafnas of Kagman said she found it a scary time “because suddenly everything was uncertain and we didn’t know if the virus has reached the islands already. If you are scared, you tend to follow rules needed to secure you and your family’s safety so even If I didn’t entirely understand was what going on, I stocked up on food and medicine and stayed home.”
Since then, the CNMI has seen many changes—in the way people shop for food, eat out, in being in public, etc., from restrictions in movement and standard practice, to precautionary measures such as wearing face masks and keeping at least 6 feet away from other people. Then the CNMI government implemented a five-color-coding scheme called Community Vulnerability, ranging from the highest, which is red, to green, which is the safest, to communicate to the public the current level of the CNMI’s vulnerability to COVID-19.
“The color scheme wasn’t introduced to the community until it was announced we were in ‘Level Yellow’ and now ‘Blue.’ The community vulnerability colors [enable] a regular person like me [to] have a clearer picture where the CNMI is currently and is able to respond properly,”Mafnas added.
“Level Blue” means a partial resumption of international flights, increased building occupancy to allow establishments to open up to 75% of their original capacity, curfew is now from 12am to at 4am, partial restaurant and bar operations are now permitted at 50% of their originally permitted occupancy limit, and dine-in customers are allowed. All these still require establishments to enforce social distancing precautions and promote the wearing of face masks, in accordance with Bureau of Environmental Health rules.
Life at “Level Blue” is a being looked at as a time to acclimatize the CNMI to the opening up its borders to flights, whether returning residents or tourists. At this level, the COVID-19 Task Force is expected to ready all mitigation measures in anticipation of the reinvigoration of the tourism industry.
“Of course, I am looking forward to moving to Level Green, which is the safest. It sounds like ‘Green’ represents the kind of lifestyle we had before the pandemic but I also know that [that isn’t] so. This huge shift in our lives has affected families, employees, businesses and children and, while we think we can go back to the way thing used to be, will many of us be able to say that after being terminated or furloughed or evicted out of your apartment?” said pilot Rick Markham.
“I think living the new normal entails still wearing masks, observing proper hygiene whether at home or in public, and social distancing until we have a vaccine. Personally, the new normal requires us not to be complacent because even if we have a few cases here on island compared to other parts of the world, we can’t be blind-sided and throw away the chance that we had it good here when this pandemic started,” Markham added.