Governor declares state of public health emergency

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GOVERNOR Ralph DLG Torres on Monday signed Executive Order 2020-04, declaring a state of public health emergency and a continued state of significant emergency to establish response, quarantine, and preventive containment measures concerning Covid-19.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres signs Executive Order 2020-04 declaring a state of public health emergency.  Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

The executive order highlights what the administration has done since late January, as well as notes its plan of action moving forward.

“Effective immediately, and until further notice, all government offices and all non-essential government functions are shut down for two weeks,” the governor said. “All non-essential personnel are asked to stay home until further notice. Essential personnel shall be identified for Covid-19 public health emergency related work. Mayors of the municipalities shall have discretion in designating employees that engage in public health emergency related work.”

On Sunday, the governor said, “We received a notice from Guam about three confirmed cases. We do not take this lightly. Since the first notice that we got from Guam, we have been working extremely hard with all of our partners…. We have a task force that has been working on this issue.”

He added, “As much as we want our tourists to come here and enjoy our beautiful islands, it has come to a point where the priority is our health.”

He said government offices shut down on Monday in order to get a full briefing from the task force.

The governor emphasized that although the government will be shut down, “every department should be on standby if we need their services.”

The shutdown began on Monday and will continue for 14 days. The governor said this shutdown will be considered an administrative leave, meaning that government employees will be compensated during the 14-day period.

As for nonresidents traveling into the CNMI, they will need a Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. recognized and certified document that attests they are not infected with Covid-19.” Without such a document presented, they will be denied entry into the Commonwealth. The date that they were last tested “must not be more than one week from the date of attempted entry into the CNMI.”

As for returning residents, if no CHCC recognized and certified document is presented clearing them of the virus, they will have to “be put into a self-quarantine protocol as prescribed by CHCC for 14 days or as long as considered necessary by CHCC.”

The executive order also emphasizes social distancing, “at least six feet whenever possible and reasonable.” The virus is more likely to spread through direct close contact with an infected person, whether the person has shown symptoms or not. It can also spread when in “close contact with a person with a confirmed infection who coughs or sneezes, or through touching objects or surfaces (such as door handles or tables) contaminated from a cough or sneeze from a person with a confirmed infection, and then touching your mouth or face.”

In addition, effective immediately, “gatherings of 50 people or more in a single room or single space at the same time for social, spiritual and recreational activities, including, but not limited to, community, civic, public leisure, faith-based, or sporting events, parades, concerts, festivals, fiestas, conventions, fundraiser and similar activities are prohibited throughout the islands of the CNMI.”

The governor stated, “I cannot emphasize how important social distancing is. Here on our islands, we like to do a lot of with family and friends at gatherings. If you love them, stay away from them. All we are asking is [to do this] for the next two weeks, or maybe a month.”

Governor Torres also highlighted Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in preventive containment measures, including covering your mouth when you sneeze, avoiding shaking hands, and most importantly, staying at home.

He emphasized staying at home and taking extra precautions around the elderly. “Please stay home with your loved ones and spend time with them. To the elderly, you are the most vulnerable in getting this virus. What we do, especially when there is an elderly at home, when you enter the facility, when you enter the home, please wash your hands with soap, and spend time washing [your hands]. If there is hand sanitizer, please use it before you enter [an establishment] with your mom, your grandma, your grandpa, or any elderly.”

He said the manamko’ center has closed, and that several scheduled events, including the Tagaman, the Flame Tree Arts Festival, the Mahi Derby, the Taste of the Marianas, and the Marianas March Against Cancer have been postponed.

“Nothing is more important than our healthcare. We have been low risk, but we have been treating this virus as high risk,” Gov. Torres said.

He said the Department of Public Safety will have an increased presence in the community, just to ensure that people are adhering to the directive.

The executive order also stated that no government employee will be allowed to travel during the shutdown, unless it is for medical reasons. Any government employee who will be leaving the islands has to have approval from the Office of the Governor, unless it is a health care issue.

Torres said the Covid-19 task force is working diligently to the best of its ability to keep the Marianas safe. Protocols are in place at all ports of entry in the Commonwealth to ensure that all arriving travelers, passengers, and cargo are being screened for Covid-19, he said.

Any suspected and/or confirmed cases will undergo proper CHCC procedures under CDC guidelines, he added.

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