The case of 37 airmen who tested positive for COVID-19 in Guam last June 22, who also put 74 people at risk and broke protocol in moving around, has prompted the concern of some residents after seeing an unknown number of military personnel shopping in Garapan last July 31. Warren Villagomez, who heads the Governor’s COVID-19 Task Force, clarified, though, that these “military personnel” are actually merchant marines who are not from a military ship and have been stationed out in the reef off the Saipan Lagoon.
Villagomez said in a phone interview that, upon arriving in the CNMI, the merchant marines, in coordination with Saipan Shipping Co. and the task force’s Infections Disease Surveillance Unit, went through the process of screening.
“We have a close working relationship with [the U.S.] Department of Defense, and we notified the Office of the Governor and our surveillance unit team and Saipan Shipping [that], if they leave our shores and they come back, they will be subject to the same procedure if they’re going to get on the island,” said Villagomez.
He said that they are keeping track of all the personnel that were on the merchant marine ships and other DOD ships that could potentially dock on the islands.
He did not state how many of these merchant marines were in Garapan, but assured that they have not left the islands’ shoreline and have followed the protocol that every passenger goes through upon entry to the islands.
Earlier, in a Facebook post, Rep. Edwin K. Propst (D-Saipan) said, “Yesterday (July 31) I got a few messages from concerned citizens who reported seeing military personnel shopping in Garapan. I want to thank the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. chief executive officer Esther Muna and the CNMI Task Force for looking into these reports.”
“While we love and support our heroes in the military, our mandatory quarantine is in place and must be followed by everyone. We saw what happened in Guam when military personnel did not follow protocol and do not want to see the same happen here. Thank you,” said Propst.
According to Saipan Tribune archives, the prepositioned ships of the U.S. military off the coast of Saipan have been taking precautionary measures such as social distancing and frequents handwashing in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.