Propst: New directive may result in ‘congested and crowded’ stores

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HOUSE Minority Leader Edwin K. Propst has raised concerns regarding the governor’s enhanced social distancing directive issued on Monday.

Edwin Propst

“We are limiting the hours of operation for businesses from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. without discussion or feedback from the businesses that are struggling to keep afloat, most especially our small businesses — the backbone of any economy. We know how hard things are right now. It is only going to get harder,” Propst said.

“Now I do not want to say that Gov. Ralph Torres is wrong to try to limit hours, but I do want to say that he needs to make some exceptions here.”

He said that limiting businesses’ operations hours will result in “congested and crowded” stores.

“If we are trying to prevent coronavirus from spreading…the worst thing that you can possibly do is to cram in all the hours of shopping into a very small, limited time, and that is essentially what is going to happen,” Propst said.

He also expressed concerns about the wages of the employees of local businesses.

He added, “No matter how you limit the number of hours in a store, people still have to go shopping. People still have to go to stores, so by limiting the number of hours of a store being open, that makes things worse. I do not understand the logic.”

According to Propst, “The thing that really disappoints me is that I know the governor has a ton of advisors and consultants surrounding him, and no one pointed out this deep flaw — that if you do this, you are actually going to endanger the cashiers, the stockers, the people working in the stores. You are also going to endanger the lives of those who are shopping. The logic is deeply flawed.”

He said, “stores are essential,” and should be exempted from the newly issued directive. “The stores have to be open as long as they want to be open,” he added.

Stores visited by Variety on Tuesday were not congested, and members of the public were observed to be keeping several feet of distance from each other. But a resident said one of the bigger stores on island was “packed earlier” Tuesday. “It was like payday,” the resident added.

Asked for comment, Press Secretary Kevin Bautista said:

“This pandemic is an evolving situation that requires Governor Torres to take immediate action and make difficult choices. However, with the escalating cases in Guam by the day, actions cannot be driven by whatever political motivation drives the minority leader. It should be clear that while the governor’s order is subject to change if and when the circumstances determine a need, the minority leader and his followers will never cease the political posturing and the relentless attempts to play on the fears of our community.

“This administration has taken action since January to monitor the borders. The CNMI was the first in the Pacific to screen tourists and off-island travelers. Governor Torres has no intention to wait for a confirmed case to put forward these types of protective measures. We will continue to work to protect this community. The Marianas means more to the governor than approval ratings and scoring political points.

“The minority leader can sit at home on Facebook all day and write letters, then give it to the press, without taking the governor’s open invitation for real dialogue with the rest of the Legislature to handle this crisis. The governor and the lt. governor will continue to work with the hundreds of first responders, government employees, and private sector employees who are working 12 hours a day to stop the spread of Covid-19.”

The governor issued the new enhanced social distancing directive “to limit public gatherings of people and to prevent potential public exposure of residents to prevent the spread of Covid-19 within the CNMI.”

He said that this is meant to “protect the lives of the elderly, the sick, and those with pre-existing illnesses or underlying medical conditions, who are most vulnerable to severe illness from the virus.”

The new directive applies, but is not limited, to stores, markets, produce stands, banks, entertainment facilities, laundry service providers, hair and nail salons, auto shops, car dealerships, insurance firms, and businesses engaged in gaming.

Exempted are the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., public and private health clinics, dental clinics, pharmacies, as well as businesses that do not have high public interaction, such as garbage collection, sanitation services, mailing and delivery services, and businesses of similar type.

The directive states that business owners and employers are allowed to continue working behind closed doors and away from public interaction outside of the hours of 6 a.m. to 1 p.m., and are advised to follow social distancing practices.

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