Both the Director of Health and the Chief Executive Officer of the LBJ Hospital told Senators yesterday that they are prepared for the first repatriation flight bringing home stranded residents from Hawaii and the US mainland on January 29th.
The two were testifying as members of the COVID-19 Task Force at a hearing of the Senate Health Committee chaired by Senator Satele Galu Satele.
The hearing focused on preparations for the repatriation flight.
CEO of LBJ Hospital Faumuina John Faumuina said the many preparations made by the Dept. of Health, the hospital and supporting agencies with a role in the repatriation plan would ensure that no one with coronavirus will be able to travel to American Samoa.
Director of Health Motusa Tuileama Nua said that since last March, when the territory’s borders closed, they have been preparing for the day we will start bringing home residents who have been stranded off island due to the coronavirus pandemic.
He confidently told the hearing that the Dept. of Health, LBJ Hospital, Medicaid office, VA Clinic, the medical team in Hawaii and everyone else involved have thoroughly planned and taken all precautions to carry out the repatriation flight while keeping the deadly virus out of the territory.
He said the decision to carry out the first flight on January 29th was made by Governor Lemanu Peleti Mauga and Lt. Governor Talauega Eleasalo Ale based on the advice of health authorities and the task force.
Motusa discussed the quarantine process for travelers in detail including the check-in at the White Sands Hotel in Hawaii, multiple COVID-19 tests while in quarantine, transportation of the travelers straight from the hotel to the Honolulu airport gate, the flight to the territory and the quarantine procedures once they arrive to American Samoa. (These details have been reported in earlier bulletins and can be found on talanei.com)
As of yesterday, 1087 people have registered on the Dept. of Health’s repatriation website.
Responding to questions from Senator Magalei Logovii, Motusa said the American Samoa Government is paying for the Hawaiian Air round trip charter, the White Sands Hotel in Hawaii and also the Tradewinds Hotel here in American Samoa. The travelers don’t have to pay anything.
The cost of the Hawaii hotel is between $80,000 and $100,000 and the first of three payments has been made.
The Health Director said there is money from the CARES Act to fund the repatriation flight.
Dept. of Health and LBJ Hospital are asking the US Department of Interior for $5,000,000 to help with the costs. Another request for funding has been made to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Senator Magalei was worried that the flight date has been set and the funding request has just been made. He said he did not want those stranded to be told that they will have to pay for airfares or accommodations in Hawaii if the funding does not come through,
Motusa said the travelers do not have to pay anything.
He said for the return flight to Hawaii, the governor wants those needing to travel off island for medical appointments or other purposes to use that flight.
He said Medicaid has been asked for assistance covering the cost and this will determine if those on the return flight will pay fares.
Magalei advised that they should stick to one policy for fares because the public will complain if the first flight is free and subsequent flights are not.
Some senators like Soliai Fuimaono, Tuiagamoa Tavai and Fai’ivae Alex Godinet had reservations about the timing of the first flight when COVID-19 is spreading faster than before with an alarming death rate.
They said the ban on flights has protected the territory from the virus.
Another concern expressed is that there are not enough doctors and nurses to care for American Samoa’s sick people now without needing to respond to COVID-19 cases.
The Health Director and LBJ CEO displayed confidence that all of the measures put into place thus far will offer adequate protection.
They said in the event the territory does get a case, they have prepared well to handle it.