The shift to testing inbound travelers for COVID-19 on arrival is aligned with the focus on collecting specimens and sending them to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify COVID-19 variants.
That’s according to Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. chief executive officer Esther L. Muña, who explained during a radio news briefing last Friday that the aim to identify which COVID-19 variant is trying to penetrate the CNMI, especially the latest variants of the disease such as the omicron variant.
“We had shifted to [testing] on arrival because we are looking for omicron, and those tests are being sent to the CDC for sequencing and to determine exactly what type of variant there is,” said Muña.
Last month, CHCC announced that all fully vaccinated inbound travelers will be tested for COVID-19 on arrival effective Dec. 20, 2021. As of CHCC’s latest update to the CNMI’s travel protocols, all fully vaccinated travelers are still required to be tested on arrival.
She said the collected COVID-19 specimens are sent directly to CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia and added that the CDC has provided “a lot of support” by prioritizing the CNMI samples, especially as the CNMI is still in a surge of COVID-19 cases.
Muña also said that CHCC is looking into having variant-identifying equipment in the CNMI so that COVID-19 variants are identified much quicker. Quick identification is crucial, she said, especially when some COVID-19 therapeutics are proving to be ineffective against the omicron variant.
In preparation for omicron, Muña said that CHCC has ordered a supply of Sotrovimab, a monoclonal antibody treatment that is reportedly one of the few MAB treatments effective against the variant.
She added that the omicron variant has not been found in the CNMI for now, but that recent specimens sent for identification have come back as the delta variant.
“As we are seeing all across the U.S., [omicron’s] likely going to be here, it’s just a matter of when. Right now, a lot of our specimens have come back as delta,” said Muña.