CDC to take Guam out of high-risk status, but plans stricter air travel requirements

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The good news is that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will be taking Guam out of its high-risk classification.

The bad news is that CDC is working toward requiring that all air travelers to the U.S. be tested for COVID-19 within a day before boarding their flight. Currently, those who are fully vaccinated may present a test taken within three days of boarding.

Guam will be removed from CDC’s list of high-risk travel areas, Guam Visitors Bureau vice president Gerry Perez reported during Wednesday morning’s Recovery Task Force meeting.

Perez quoted White House Associate Director for Puerto Rico and Territories Gretchen Sierra-Zorita as saying that Guam will be out of high-risk status beginning Dec. 6, 2021.

“This is good news. This is one of the issues that we kept bringing up … that no matter what our situation is, we keep getting labeled as a high-risk district,” Perez said.

Last August, CDC placed Guam on its “very high” travel risk level. This is the CDC’s highest risk level and recommends avoiding travel to Guam or at the very least making sure travelers are fully vaccinated before traveling to Guam.

Guam’s previous rating was “high” which was given at the beginning of August after being in the “moderate” level since June.

Back in August, Guam’s COVID risk level surged to 39.3 on Aug. 30 from below 2.0 last July. The number of hospitalizations on island also increased, rising to 35 as of Aug. 30.

But since that time, the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have dropped.

As of Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, Guam’s CAR score has dropped to just 0.7, Public Health reported only 20 new COVID cases, and there were only 13 hospitalized for COVID-19.

Guam and CNMI celebrate removal from Travel Recommendations by Destination

Acting Governor Josh Tenorio issued the following statement regarding Guam’s anticipated removal from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination:

“Effective December 6, Guam will be removed from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination, and we will be considered domestic travel. As a US Territory, we welcome this news which aligns us with our stateside counterparts and better positions us for reopening to our tourism markets sooner.”

He added: “Not only is Guam ‘Where America’s Day Begins,’ but we have continually been a leader in this pandemic response, instituting mandatory travel quarantine, mask mandates, and proof of vaccination requirements earlier than others. We believe this change also recognizes the tremendous progress we have made in recent weeks, combating the third surge of COVID-19.”

CNMI Governor Ralph DLG. Torres also announced Wednesday that CDC will likewise remove the CNMI from its COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination also on December 6, 2021.

For most of the pandemic, the CNMI was classified by the CDC as “Level 1: COVID-19 Low,”
meaning that it is listed as a safe destination with low community transmission. Torres said this policy change will formally list the CNMI as a domestic destination for the United States.

“The White House informed me earlier today that the CNMI will be removed from CDC’s COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination, paving the way for the safe return to normal tourism for our islands. The Marianas is open for business as a tourism destination, and we have a proven track record during this entire COVID-19 response through our travel quarantine protocols, testing requirements, and successful vaccination efforts of our people. This policy change by the CDC speaks to the strong measures we have in place. CNMI has been a model for the Pacific and the nation in mitigating against COVID-19, and we will continue to keep our hospitalization rate low and safeguard our man’amko, our chronically ill, and our loved ones through strong protective measures and by practicing the 3Ws,” said Torres.

Stricter testing requirements

However, the lifting of the CDC’s high-risk classification for Guam may be counteracted by the agency’s plan to toughen COVID testing requirements for travelers to the US.

“CDC is working to modify the current Global Testing Order for travel as we learn more about the Omicron variant; a revised order would shorten the timeline for required testing for all international air travelers to one day before departure to the United States,” the agency said.

This stricter testing requirement could serve as a disincentive for travel to Guam and other parts of the nation.

The Associated Press also quoted an anonymous senior administration official who said options under consideration also include post-arrival testing requirements or or even self-quarantines.

CDC currently recommends post-arrival testing 3-5 days after landing in the U.S. from overseas and self-quarantine for unvaccinated travelers, though compliance is voluntary and is believed to be low.

“CDC is evaluating how to make international travel as safe as possible, including pre-departure testing closer to the time of flight and considerations around additional post-arrival testing and self-quarantines,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.

The CDC plan comes just weeks after the U.S. largely reopened its borders to fully vaccinated foreign travelers on Nov. 8 and instituted a two-tiered testing system that allowed fully vaccinated travelers more time to seek a pre-arrival test, while requiring a test within a day of boarding for the unvaccinated.

According to the AP, President Joe Biden plans to announce the stricter requirements during a speech on Thursday that would outline his plans to control the COVID-19 pandemic during the winter season.

Guam markets are concerned too

Meanwhile, GVB’s Perez said Guam’s tourism markets are also very concerned about the new omicron COVID variant.

According to Perez, the omicron variant poses a “very high” global risk and could lead to surges with “severe consequences.”

Perez said Japan has already banned all foreigners from entering the country starting Nov. 30 while Korea has banned the entry of foreign nationals from eight African countries.

He added that the presence of the omicron variant has already been confirmed in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, France, and Canada.

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