Governor asks people to ‘hang on’ financially; GovGuam still waits on Congress for help
Anumita Kaur, Pacific Daily NewsPublished 12:44 a.m. ChT March 25, 2020AD0:10
The non-essential business shutdown will stretch until April 13, and so far, there is still no immediate help for residents who have lost work and are looking to make ends meet.
“I am very concerned about the economy here… everyone is very concerned about the economy. Everyone is seeing the same economic downturn as we are,” Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said during a press conference Tuesday. “But the overriding concern is the health and safety of the people.”
“Congress is working diligently,” she said. “I’m just asking people to hang on.”
Guam has no resources of its own to provide assistance to currently displaced workers, according to Guam Department of Labor Director David Dell’Isola.
Dell’Isola said that everybody’s bills should be deferred if necessary, including rent, loan payments, utilities.
With many renters’ April rent looming, Leon Guerrero echoed this sentiment on Tuesday.
“Could we be a little more lenient to the renters? Do some kind of deferral of their rent for two or three months? We will make sure (landlords) will get reimbursed for that,” Leon Guerrero said. “This is an economic disaster need.” 21 PhotosPeople under quarantine moved to Pacific Star
Guam Power Authority discontinued power disconnections for the remainder of March. GPA is also recommending to lower customer power bills by reducing the Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause by 18.2%. This awaits approval from the Public Utilities Commission.
There is no legislation currently on Guam regarding a rent suspension. GovGuam officials are primarily looking at Congress and the White House for aid.
U.S. senators reached no conclusion Tuesday, Guam time, on a massive coronavirus stimulus package, which includes direct payments to all citizens, including on Guam. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said a vote on the measure could be delayed until the end of the week. Critics said the plan was too generous to big corporations and too stingy for working families, USA TODAY reported.
Officials also await disaster unemployment assistance, Dell’Isola said. Disaster unemployment assistance provides weekly checks of a set amount for workers displaced by disaster, which now entails COVID-19. Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero is seeking a major disaster declaration for Guam, which, if approved by President Trump, would allow the island to avail of the funds.
Both pieces of aid would still take weeks to get checks into people’s hands.
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‘It’s impossible for anyone to predict’: Layoffs, uncertainty in the face of COVID-19
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero attended a call with the Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. governors, and said that all is being done at the federal level to finalize the coronavirus stimulus package.
“I know we have some concerns, a lot of concerns about our economy,” said Leon Guerrero. “They’re working everything they can to pass this CARE Act, which would allow a lot of economic stimulus, a lot of economic incentive dollars to our hotel industry, to our businesses. I am really tracking that and I have great confidence that the federal government is prepared and ready to help, not just our territories, but all of the states in the nation.”
The shut down may stretch longer than April 13, if necessary. The outbreak numbers will determine when the governor lifts the shutdown.
“Right now, we’re still seeing cases and new, positive cases,” Leon Guerrero said.
According to a Guam Chamber of Commerce poll, 87% of surveyed businesses reported a negative financial impact. The majority of these businesses turned to layoffs, or reduced employees’ hours.
Local relief efforts
Guam’s Republican senators introduced Bill 319 on Tuesday, “to provide families and businesses with immediate economic relief during this unprecedented public health crisis.”
The bill seeks to temporarily reduce business privilege taxes from 5% to 4% from April 1 through Dec. 31.
“We’ve proposed several economic stabilization measures that benefit as many of those who are affected by the pandemic and not any one group of people. These proposals help businesses and individual consumers by reducing taxes and help to maintain if not reduce the costs of goods and services,” said Sen. Telo Taitague.
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Other measures include authorizing the governor to expedite tax refund payments using unappropriated fiscal 2019 revenue and funds received via reimbursement from the federal government for war claims, and exempting prescription medicines and certain medical supplies from the business privilege tax.
Attempts to put together an unemployment benefits program on Guam are deferred. An emergency legislative session scheduled for Monday was postponed until further notice.
Sen. Telena Nelson introduced Bill 313 earlier this month, which would create an unemployment benefits program on Guam. This would allow Guam to avail of federal funds made available through H.R. 6201, which responds to the coronavirus outbreak through various measures, including expanding unemployment benefit programs.
But even if Nelson’s bill passes, availing of the federal funds may take more time. Guam’s government will have to coordinate with the federal Labor Department to ensure its benefits programs meet federal standards, then the Secretary of Labor would need to certify Guam’s unemployment program.
Nelson’s Bill 313 would provide benefits only to those who are unemployed. Those who remain employed, but have had hours cut, would not qualify.
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero on Tuesday afternoon signed an executive order extending the social isolation mandate and limiting non-essential businesses and government operations through April 13.
“We must do more,” Leon Guerrero said a press conference. “Experts say if we don’t cut our spread rate in half to 16.5 percent, our health care system might be overwhelmed by next week. “
Once capacity is reached, Dr. Felix Cabrera said on Monday that, “death rates will skyrocket from here.”
In executive order 2020-06, Leon Guerrero also establishes a unified response effort, tapping on health care providers on Guam.
Leon Guerrero said providers will be broken up into three tiers.
- Guam Memorial Hospital will focus on COVID-19 medical care
- Guam Regional Medical City will focus on non-covid-19 medical care
Non-COVID-19 urgent care
- American Medical Center
- Seventh-day Adventist
- All other health care facilities and providers – will provide all other care.
GovGuam will tap GRMC for non-COVID-19 efforts. Leon Guerrero said this allows GMH to focus on COVID-19 related care.
Tier 1 and Tier 2 providers are to determine people under investigation for COVID-19.
There will be maternal/child health patients who will move from GMH to GRMC in Dededo.
Dr. Mike Cruz said the planned move is still a work in progress.
The public health emergency could extend beyond April 13. Or it could be called off earlier. The governor said which emergency measures are put in place and how long they stay in place are dependent on the confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Guam.
“Right now we’re still seeing cases, new cases,” she said. “The driver of when we lift the quarantine, the social distancing, going back to school, opening businesses, the driver behind that is going to be how our cases are.”
The governor urged residents to stay home. Even if Guam can flatten the curve and cut the rate of new COVID-19 cases to 16.5% a day, people will still die but it won’t be as devastating as if Guam continues on its current infection trajectory.
Coronavirus (Photo: Getty Images)
Twelve more people have tested positive for coronavirus.
The Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services tested 35 individuals for COVID-19 and 12 tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 while 23 tested negative for SARS-CoV-2.
A total of 153 tests were performed March 12-22. To date, a total of 27 cases tested positive and 126 cases tested negative for COVID-19, according to a news release from the Joint Information Cwnter.
All 26 confirmed cases are in isolation.
The government of Guam is aggressively implementing its COVID-19 response to identify and contain transmission of COVID-19 in Guam and continues to evaluate the situation to enhance response efforts.
As part of the response, Public Health officials may be calling residents from a local landline or mobile phone number to obtain further information. This is not a scam. Public Health doesn’t ask for any financial details during the call.
Guam COVID-19 positive cases consist of imported cases among international travelers and cases among close contacts of a known case. Community transmission is occurring, the release stated.
Person-to-person spread is thought to happen among people in close contact (about 6 feet) with each other through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread.
The government advises:
- Stay home. Consider ways of getting food brought to your house through family, social, or commercial networks.
- Stock up on supplies.
- Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others.
- When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.
- Avoid crowds as much as possible.
It’s important to note the situation can change quickly. The community is reminded to only share official notices and visit the following links for the most up-to-date information:
- CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
- Public Health website: http://dphss.guam.gov/2019-novel-coronvirus-2019-n-cov/
- GHS/OCD website: https://ghs.guam.gov/coronavirus-covid-19
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