Up until now, health ministers, directors, and secretaries in the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands (USAPIs) have focused much of their COVID-19 response efforts locally. But the coronavirus situation across the Pacific Ocean among islanders living on the U.S. mainland has become a cause for concern.
In an effort to link USAPI health officials with their stateside counterparts, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) led a special meeting of stakeholders in collaboration with the Pacific Islands Health Officers’ Association (PIHOA).
USAPI health officials from American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia were joined by state health officials from Alaska, Arkansas, Hawai’i, Oregon, and Washington.
Stakeholders discussed how the current risk of COVID-19 in the states might impact repatriation plans for USAPI residents stranded in Hawai’i, Guam, and the U.S. mainland.
Dr. Richard Brostrom, who is part of the
CDC IMS State Coordination Task Force (SCTF) for the US Pacific Islands
, called repatriation of stranded citizens one of the critical issues facing health officials on both sides of the Pacific. “When we’re conducting our weekly one-on-one calls with each USAPI jurisdiction, there has been a big effort to repatriate citizens who are stranded. This is clearly the highest risk activity for introducing the pandemic to some of these COVID-free islands,” said Dr. Brostrom.
Over the past few weeks, the repatriation of residents was successful in the RMI, Palau, FSM, and American Samoa with all COVID-19 test results coming out negative. Despite its success, health officials and federal agencies remain concerned about the risk repatriation flights hold.