Will the governor reconsider her orders?

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero today will meet with her physicians advisory group and the officers of the Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association, who are asking her to rescind her latest orders regarding vaccination. The meeting comes as significant pressure is mounting on the governor from all quarters to reconsider her mandate that has essentially pitted the unvaccinated against the vaccinated.

Ms. Leon Guerrero’s concerns, despite her Draconian message, are real, though. Data released from the Joint Information Center shows the island’s only two civilian hospitals’s intensive care units are filling up with coronavirus patients. As of the latest release, of the 25 hospitalized for the disease, six are vaccinated, and 19 are not.

But is this a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” as she described the current state of affairs? Her most recent orders require certain businesses to check the vaccination status of its patrons and employees. Effective today (though it will not be enforced for a couple more weeks), residents who are unvaccinated will be turned away from several island businesses.

A growing number of those businesses refuse to ostracize their customers on account of their vaccination status. Rather than face steep fines in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars, small businesses are standing up to the governor and shutting their doors rather than forcing their customers to produce papers, or having to segregate their employees who choose to not be vaccinated.

The head of her very own group of doctors (physicians advisory group, or PAG) who advise her on coronavirus, Dr. Hoa Nguyen, said the governor’s orders will have the opposite effect of their most important goal: to convince people to get vaccinated.

The quick rise in infections and hospitalizations, compounded by the likely spread of the dreaded delta variant on Guam, precipitated her decision, the governor has said. She wanted to do something to stem the overwhelming of both Guam Memorial Hospital and Guam Regional Medical City’s ICUs, a situation that occurred when cases were on the rise around this time last year.

Congressman Michael San Nicolas said the governor should not have jumped the gun with such a rash and divisive order, and should have used even a small portion of the $600 million he secured for her use to educate more people to get vaccinated.

Here is Mr. San Nicolas’s full statement:

“Stripping people of their freedom of movement does not build consensus towards a cause. That should have been learned with the road blocks failure.
“When you have over 600million in federal dollars specifically to address risks and incentivise participation you should be using that to promote safety and build consensus. Why do these monies remain locked up while instead also choosing to lock people down?
“With vaccinated and unvaccinated contracting and spreading the virus, we need to focus everyone on working together rather than against one another. We don’t want to lull the vaccinated into a false sense of security when it can still be spread among them, and we don’t want to exacerbate the unvaccinated into more risky behavior, like congregating only at establishments that continue to serve the unvaccinated, because we are giving them no choice.
“We don’t want more businesses to shutter, resulting in greater concentration of movement among fewer establishments, as that increases risk exposure whether vaccinated or unvaccinated.
“With the new variant infecting the vaccinated and with global spread at a rate new variants are likely to emerge, we need to bring our people together for us to learn how we are going to navigate this and other variants over the long term.
“People need clarity and businesses need consistency. Our community AND our markets need to see us proactively managing not reactively shooting from the hip, because confidence is key to recovery.
“If you are not vaccinated we encourage you to do so, but if you choose not to for any reason whatsoever we respect that, and kindly advise that you take precautions because you are at greater risk of contracting the current variant and getting much sicker from it, and we want to enjoy your company for many years to come.
“We hope this track record of years of bad leadership decisions comes to an end soon, as we are no closer to recovery today than we were at the beginning.
“Stay safe Guam. There are brighter days ahead and they include all of us.”
Guam’s congressman joins a chorus yet to crescendo against the governor’s orders, with a protest planned at the Governor’s Office at 5 p.m. Tuesday that has the attention of many, including the head of the governor’s PAG.
“I will fully support this movement,” Dr. Nguyen wrote regarding the opposition to the governor. “I believe in COVID19 immunization but no one can mandate private companies in mandating vaccines on their employees. This EO needs to be rescinded.”
But, Dr. Nguyen is wrong. Ms. Leon Guerrero does have the power during a public health emergency to mandate the vaccine. Those powers were granted to her by the Guam Legislature through the Emergency Health Power Act. §19603 of the statute states, in relevant part, “During a state of public health emergency, the public health authority may exercise the following emergency powers over persons as necessary to address the public health emergency… To vaccinate persons as protection against infectious disease and to prevent the spread of contagious or possibly contagious disease.”
Just as the legislature has granted this power to the governor, so too may they take it away by a vote of eight senators. None of the 15 have thus far introduced any resolution to revoke the governor’s declaration of a public health emergency.
Republican Sen. Jim Moylan, one of Ms. Leon Guerrero’s most vocal critics, released the following statement this morning:

“I disagree with a statement made by Governor Lou Leon Guerrero on Friday, where she referred to unvaccinated residents as a pandemic. While I encourage our community to attain the vaccination for an array of reasons, we also must respect the decision of those who elect not to. As a leader, the Governor must unify and not divide the island through her leadership, and most importantly, she must listen to her constituency.

“Governor Leon Guerrero’s latest Executive Order not only is on pace to enhance segregation, but she continues to display that the opinions of others don’t matter.

“While we recognize that the virus still exists, and recent increases in positive cases should warrant the scaling back of certain restrictions, the E.O. was a bit too extensive. What we didn’t see were any actions addressing the increase in positive cases arising in the schools. The Governor’s message is very inconsistent, “an unvaccinated adult is not allowed to eat in a restaurant, but an unvaccinated 14-year-old, is allowed to eat in a high school cafeteria”.

“Personally, I would have preferred that prior to making such an extensive decision, that Governor Lou Leon Guerrero opened the communication lines, inclusive of discussions with the Guam Legislature. I do not believe there would have been much resistance with enacting measures that establish online classes in the interim, or even reductions with social gatherings or even in some cases, occupancy numbers. We can’t say “we are all in this together” when the input of the “people’s house” (the Guam Legislature) is being blocked.

“It is vital that we enact measures which involve the legislative process, particularly when it comes to extensive decisions. Senator Frank Blas Jr., and I, have introduced an amendment to this budget bill, which would require the approval of the Guam Legislature on any decision made by the Governor, where fines, citations, and even these vaccination mandates are proposed. Legislation is also forthcoming, to allow for the public’s input.

“From my understanding, there will also be an attempt to override the veto of Bill 11-36, which I co-sponsored and will continue to support. This measure requires that the administration be transparent, as the legislation proposes that the Legislature be the approving body for any extension of a public health emergency. Once again, this goes back to the importance of public input.

“Dividing the community or referring to the unvaccinated residents as a “pandemic” will not address the problem on hand. Transparency, listening to the community, and working cohesively is the only way we are going to get out of this pandemic together.”

Will the governor change her mind following today’s meeting. Will she consider what her medical advisors and the island’s largest business group tells her? For the GHRA, this will be its first official audience with the governor herself on this specific issue. Prior to the Friday announcement that seemed to catch all sectors by surprise, GHRA president Mary Rhodes said her organization had been in communication with the Department of Public Health and Social Services about the possible restrictions to curb the hospitalization rate and increase vaccinations. Here was her full statement on the matter from this weekend:

“We appreciate the opportunity to continue to work with the government as we work through this pandemic, but we were considering options for the businesses to select how they can operate within certain limitations as initially recommended by the Physicians Advisory Group . The following includes a brief summary of what was discussed:

“First, we were not informed that they were going to mandate vaccines at the establishments for service staff. Vaccines at the workplace has always been up to each employer. GHRA has led many vaccine clinics the last seven months, but have never pushed for mandating vaccines

“Second, we were told by PAG they would implement in in three weeks to allow for training and communications for staff and to encourage the public to schedule vaccines to get fully vaccinated by a certain date. The Governor announced this takes effect on Monday, which was not our understanding of PAG’s recommendations. We need to allow businesses to acclimate to the new requirements, train and schedule staff, put the proper protocols in place, and notify the public on the new entry requirements.

“Third, the announcement today requires certain businesses and activities to only allow 100% access for vaccination individuals. GHRA only discussed the options that were recommended by the PAG including:

– If businesses don’t want to check vaccinations, they can operate at 50%. This is no different than what businesses were doing before restrictions were lifted. So this is reasonable for businesses to comply with if they don’t want to check for proof of vaccination

– If they do check for proof of vaccines, they can operate at 100%

– social gathering limited to 25 unless you can prove vaccinations, which would allow between 26-150.

“For proof of vaccines, we recommended, paper or photocopies on smart phones of CDC card and/or second verification for now. But, we also presented a QR code solution that would be seamless for the businesses and public to use while allowing DPHSS the access to review the QR code scans by businesses which would help them more effectively manage contact tracing.”

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