Torres announces federal assistance for COVID-19 response

Posted on Mar 23 2020

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres announced Friday that President Donald J. Trump has approved his March 3, 2020, request for federal assistance to aid ongoing CNMI efforts to combat the COVID-19 outbreak.

As of March 13, 2020, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has officially been authorized to provide appropriate assistance and to provide emergency protective measures (Category B) not authorized under other federal statutes, including direct federal assistance, under the Public Assistance program.

Torres also announced his ongoing efforts with the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide economic injury disaster loans for the CNMI’s businesses, which have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak and the loss of tourists coming into the CNMI.

Below is the governor’s full announcement on social media to the Marianas on Saturday, March 21, 2020:

“I understand that it has been a long week for all of us

“Last night, our community received some positive news in light of all that is going on in our region and around the world.

“Two specimens that were sent to Guam earlier this week for testing returned negative for COVID-19. This includes the specimen from an individual we isolated.

“While we still do not have a confirmed case of COVID-19 here in the CNMI, your government through our COVID-19 Task Force and the Commonwealth Health Care Corp., through CEO Esther Muña, continues to be proactive and implement strict social distancing procedures to keep you, your families, our man’amko, and our loved ones with pre-existing illnesses safe.

“Since January, we have been actively conducting surveillance at our airports and screening tourists and returning residents through our health declaration form coming into the Marianas. We were the first state or territory in the United States to do this.

“When we made the request on January 29 to suspend flights from China to protect our islands from the coronavirus, we knew that was a difficult decision. It brought our economy to a standstill and hurt our government revenues, which was seeing positive collections in January. But we knew we had to do what was right to keep our islands safe, despite having to go through this economic crisis.

“On March 3, 2020, I wrote to President Donald J. Trump to inform him of our crisis in the CNMI and sought his assistance to mobilize federal resources to aid the CNMI government in our response to this pandemic.

“Earlier this week, in response to my communication, [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] has officially been authorized to provide appropriate assistance and to provide emergency protective measures (Category B) not authorized under other Federal statutes, including direct federal assistance, under the Public Assistance program.

“FEMA Region IX Administrator Robert Fenton, who has been a strong partner of ours during typhoons, directly informed me that the President’s declaration covers all of our islands, Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, for COVID-19 response.

“Lt. Gov. [Arnold I.] Palacios and I have already started working closely with FEMA since March 13 to access all the federal resources available to the CNMI pursuant to the presidential declaration, including my request for the mobilization of the Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT-A) to assist the CNMI in its emergency protective measures and response coordination to combat COVID-19.

“We also worked with the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide economic injury disaster loans for our affected businesses. Through the support of our businesses, the SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance approved our request, and we are now waiting for the formal declaration to begin offering assistance to all of our impacted businesses and non-profit organizations.

“Federal support at my request is well on its way, so we are not alone in this crisis. We made these requests before a confirmed positive case emerged within our region.

“Then last Sunday, upon hearing the news of three confirmed positive cases in Guam, Lt. Gov. Palacios and I did not wait. We took action. We immediately called for the closure of all government offices and non-essential government operations. We worked with the Board of Education, [Public School System], and [the Northern Marianas College] in closing down schools and our college. The next day, I officially declared a public health emergency for the CNMI.

“Effective Monday morning, March 23, all passengers from off-island, including residents, will be subject to mandatory quarantine for a minimum of 14 days. This may be an inconvenience for you, but please understand that this is to protect your family and your loved ones.

“To all of our business and travel partners, thank you for all of the support and understanding since we first addressed this virus. In the coming days, we will be making more drastic decisions for closure of restaurants and other establishments.

“This crisis is bigger than politics and bigger than ourselves. It is a challenging time for our Commonwealth, but I know that if we all work together, help each other out, practice proper hygiene, and promote social distancing, we can beat this virus.

“We will always be Marianas Strong, and I will continue to provide updates, along with our COVID-19 Task Force, CHCC, and all our local and federal partners.”

Torres also expressed his appreciation to the leadership of both houses of the Legislature in assisting in securing additional federal assistance for the Marianas.

“I want to thank Senate President Victor B. Hocog, Speaker BJ T. Attao, and the leadership of both the House and Senate for their support and commitment in working with my office to secure this federal assistance from the President. Both houses are also committed to leverage local funding for our public health emergency,” said Torres. “The President and FEMA have been strong partners for the Marianas for several years now, and we look forward to working with them to strengthen our response to the COVID-19 outbreak. My administration and the Legislature’s leadership will continue to work with our federal partners to secure additional funding to protect our community from COVID-19.” (PR)

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