Covid is knocking on the RMI’s door

Included in last week’s Majuro Minions summer volleyball program at SSG Solomon Sam Sports Center at CMI was a practice session for the youthful participants in face mask use, another sign of the soon-to-be times. Photo: Chewy Lin.


With the border opening looming, there is more talk in the community about the arrival of Covid in RMI. There are more questions than answers: Are we ready, will there be lockdowns, will schools be closed?

Neighboring FSM opened its borders officially Monday this week — but Covid slipped into Pohnpei and Kosrae a month before the border opened and the Covid wave has so far caused 10 deaths, eight in Pohnpei and two in Kosrae.

Will the Marshall Islands experience the same fate of Covid spread before October 1? Last month’s 40 positive cases in quarantine, and this month the huge number of people in five separate quarantine facilities is stretching to the limit the Ministry of Health and Human Services and others involved in quarantine operations. And Covid positive cases continue to show in quarantine.

Last week’s day-three Covid testing confirmed the first-ever positive Covid cases in Majuro hospital’s Covid isolation ward, two of the group of returning medical referral patients who came in last week. Three more tested positive in the Arrak quarantine facility, one was positive in the RMI repatriation group on Kwajalein, two in the Army’s weekly repatriation group, and one on a vessel in Majuro lagoon — bringing the total to nine active Covid cases in managed quarantine as of Monday this week. The super-contagious BA.5, now the dominant Covid variant, magnifies the risk and opportunity for spread from quarantine.

In addition, the Cabinet has approved a reduction in RMI quarantine time to 10 days. Although most Covid cases in managed quarantine appear in the first week, there have been outliers late in the previous 14-day quarantine.

MOHHS IPS Nurse Specialist Nolau Lutunatabua and her assistant, Barwa Jacklick, demonstrate the correct way to use face masks to the gathered Minions during last week’s volleyball program. Photo: Chewy Lin.

In addition, the Cabinet has approved a reduction in RMI quarantine time to 10 days. Although most Covid cases in managed quarantine appear in the first week, there have been outliers late in the previous 14-day quarantine.

With the Cabinet’s decision to open the borders October 1, the Marshall Islands is guaranteed to see its first Covid cases soon after that date as people from the outside world arrive without the need of quarantine. But it is also very possible that we will experience Covid well before that date in light of incoming repatriation numbers. This week, there are about 200 people in managed quarantine on Majuro and Kwajalein, the most ever.

The Arrak quarantine facility has expanded with the opening of the 10 apartments that MEC hastily installed at the CMI Campus in recent weeks to facilitate more repatriation. In addition, Pacific International Inc.’s Blue Lagoon housing facility will see its first use as a quarantine location this week with the expected arrival of 17 workers and four PII-related family members. 

As to the question of lockdowns, in the FSM President David Panuelo has declared that the FSM national government will not require lockdowns. In RMI, the matter has not been decided. Chief Secretary Kino Kabua, who heads the RMI National Disaster Committee, told the Journal this week that the matter is under discussion between the NDC and Cabinet.

Meanwhile, in Pohnpei, mask wearing in public facilities is a requirement. But the wildfire-like spread of Covid — the FSM said July 31 there had been 4,264 cases in the 12 days since community spread was confirmed — has closed or reduced the hours for banks, businesses and offices due to workers being out with Covid.

An incredible statistic from the Kosrae State Department of Health Services showed that in nine days from July 18, health staff tested 1,009 people and 746 tested positive. That’s a nearly 75 percent positive rate in Kosrae. Monday this week, Governor Carson Sigrah issued a directive requiring all government workers to be vaccinated or their salaries will be withheld. He also decreed that students at all grade levels must be vaccinated to remain in school, and ordered masking in all public and private gathering places.

The RMI has not made vaccinations mandatory for government workers, but it is increasing the tempo of its effort to get everyone vaccinated against Covid. Now vaccines are available for everyone from six months of age and up, while Covid is knocking at our door.

This week, the Ministry of Health and Human Services opened four community locations to provide vaccines to the public in an effort to ramp up the country’s vaccination levels.

“We are the only country in the world that has been able to hold off this virus long enough so that we could offer vaccines to all age groups from six months and up before a community outbreak has occurred,” said Health Secretary Jack Niedenthal this week. He added a sense of urgency to the task, reminding people who have not been vaccinated that the Covid vaccine does not provide immediate protection. For the Pfizer and Moderna brand vaccines, it takes two shots spaced a month apart for the vaccines to be most effective. “Don’t wait,” is his message.

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