Coronavirus re-emerges in shelters along with flu; GovGuam takes steps to prevent spread

Doctors have been warning this would happen, and it has. Dr. Bob Leon Guerrero of the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services has confirmed at least four cases of COVID-19 at the Tamuning refugee shelter, and another at the Astumbo shelter. This is on top of the one confirmed Influenza B diagnosis earlier this week, and anecdotal evidence of spreading disease as officials have observed symptoms of illness among children, their mothers and fathers at the shelters.

“To prevent further spread of the virus, all affected families remain in isolation at non-congregate facilities,” a DPHSS news release states. “Multiplex testing (which tests for COVID-19, Influenza and RSV), face masks, hand sanitizers, and hand washing stations are available to shelter residents.”

While the confirmed cases have been isolated elsewhere, not everyone with symptoms at the shelters is getting tested, leaving the possibilities wide open that disease is spreading further in the congregate settings.

Lt. Gov. Joshua Tenorio said he and the governor warned the American Red Cross against opening a congregate shelter-type operation, fearing the spread of disease. The Red Cross operates the two shelters, not the government of Guam. A congregate shelter is one, where its residents live in an open area, and the living spaces are not separated into individual rooms for families. An example of a non-congregate facility is a hotel.

The Tamuning facility is a warehouse with almost no ventilation. There also is no air conditioning.

Dr. Hoa Nguyen and Dr. Vince Akimoto, the owners of American Medical Center, have been providing free medical services with their teams of doctors and nurses from AMC since the start of the week, when reports of disease spread started surfacing. They, Sen. Jesse Lujan, Speaker Therese Terlaje, Tamuning Mayor Louise Rivera, and Tamuning Vice Mayor Al Toves have been asking the governor since Monday to stand up a government-run facility elsewhere due to the inhumane conditions.

Yesterday, the governor issued a news release agreeing with their fellow leaders and the doctors, and announcing plans to open another shelter. Among the options, according to Mr. Tenorio, are other vacant private facilities, hotels, and to a lesser degree, schools.

“Everything is on the table,” Mr. Tenorio said.

The Red Cross also issued a news release Thursday. We provide it in its entirety:

“The American Red Cross continues to partner with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Guam Homeland Security and local authorities to help residents of Guam recover from typhoon Mawar. Ensuring people have a safe place to stay during a disaster is a critical part of the Red Cross mission, but how we support sheltering efforts may be different in each community, depending on local emergency plans and the scale of the disaster. In our Red Cross shelters on Guam, we are providing meals, health services, spiritual care and other services to make our residents as comfortable as possible. We are also working with FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, and local partners to identify and meet needs in our shelters.

Photo caption: Families take a break from the crammed warehouse shelter in Tamuning with their children in a lowered tent outside the facility Wednesday.


“The Red Cross team responding to typhoon Mawar is aware that there have been some cases of influenza B in our shelters. Our disaster health services team is working with local health officials, including doctors from American Medical Center, to support the residents in both shelters. The Red Cross is collaborating with the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHSS) to monitor the situation and strengthen infection controls to help prevent further spread of the virus. To help keep our workforce and the people we serve safe, we will keep in place many of the safety precautions that we implemented in 2020. These precautions include encouraging masks, health screenings, enhanced cleaning procedures and encouraging social distancing. As we have throughout the pandemic, we’ll continue to follow the safety guidance from the Center of Disease Control (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA.) The health, care and comfort of all shelter residents is our top priority.

“We will continue to respond and assist in recovery alongside FEMA, Guam Homeland Security, the Governor’s Office, Mayoral Offices, Department of Public Health, Social Services, and other local and government partners. Responding to disasters is a team effort and no single organization can do it alone — this is particularly true in this current environment. We will continue to closely coordinate our response with our partners to better serve the people of Guam.”

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