Chamber hits PCOR-1 decision; governor counters: ‘a sick community is a sick economy’

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The Guam Chamber of Commerce has expressed dismay over Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero’s decision to place Guam back into Pandemic Condition of Readiness 1.

In a statement in response to the release of the Governor’s new executive order authorizing PCOR-1, the Chamber said: “While we hoped that there would be a change of heart in the Governor’s final decision, we are deeply dismayed that Governor Lou Leon Guerrero has decided to place Guam in Pandemic Condition of Readiness 1 (PCOR 1) by midnight, Sunday, August 16th.”

According to the Chamber, this authorization places a hardship and burden not only on a vast majority of businesses on Guam but their employees and families as well.

“No sales revenue means no pay for private sector employees. While government employees are also required to close, these employees continue to be paid. By temporarily closing ‘non-essential’ businesses and government offices it further exacerbates the ‘us and them’ mindset in our small island community,” the Chamber stated.

In addition, the Chamber said there has been a daily sense of frustration and uncertainty among local businesses as all have gone above and beyond to ensure that their operations are in compliance with CDC and Guam Public Health guidelines.

“The additional costs of keeping up with sanitation protocols and low sales revenue have meant the life and death of one company after another over the past several months. As many have tried their best to hang on, we are deeply afraid that many more businesses will not survive this two-week mandatory pause. The very companies that have served our island for many years are in grave danger of closing their doors forever. The employees that have served these fine businesses will no longer have jobs to return to. Federal Unemployment Assistance will not be available forever. For those who have received assistance, they have already seen a drop in the amounts they are getting. In December, benefits will cease all together. The Government has reported that they do not have the resources to fund the matching requirements of further unemployment assistance. How will our people put food on their table, pay their rent, pay their utilities, or pay their loans? How will our young people just recently graduated be gainfully employed?” the Chamber stated.

Following is the rest of the Chamber statement:

“Knowing how much the economy has been devastated by the Coronavirus pandemic, the Governor has chosen to basically close the island down citing the 25% increase of total positive COVID-19 cases since March. Yet, the tracking of positive cases is at 1.8% as compared to the total number of those who were tested. The more we test, the more likely we are to find cases. While we understand and acknowledge the increase of positive cases, we also know that these increases have been contact traced to social and community gathering and not to the entire business community. DPHSS has done a great job with contract tracing and for those that have tested positive, clusters have been found and traced to points whereby infection happened. However, all businesses that are not deemed essential are forced to close their doors despite no positive case tracing to their establishments.

“The Governor said in her press conference yesterday that “life should not be normal right now;” and we respectfully disagree with her. We cannot live in a climate of fear. Life was meant to be lived. In this health and economic crises, we agree that we must be more diligent than ever in protecting ourselves and our loved ones. As we protect our vulnerable population and put into practice sanitation protocols, we should still be allowed the freedom to live, work, play and worship. We simply cannot stop living and we certainly cannot continue to live this way.

“Our local government must do more to protect our economy and especially our small businesses. It is our opinion that all businesses are essential. They provide wages for employees and a service to our community. A majority of our businesses have proven that they can operate and be in compliance under extreme public health measures while continuing to serve their customers and keep their workforce employed. They should be allowed to do so.”

Governor’s response

Responding to the Chamber, Governor Lou Leon Guerrero countered that having a sick community means having a sick economy.

“I declared Pandemic Condition of Readiness (PCOR) 1 to save lives now and protect livelihoods in the long run. Though we can rebuild our economy after a short time in PCOR 1, no one will shop in our stores or stay in our hotels if doing so will likely infect them with COVID-19. If our community is sick, we will have nothing more than a sick economy.

Unfortunately, the Chamber’s statements are based on the wrong data. While it is true that our test positivity rate over the life of this pandemic is 1.8%, over the past 7 days alone, Guam’s test positivity rate for COVID-19 has nearly doubled from 1.8% to 3.2% respectively. In just this month, we confirmed 146 new cases of COVID-19. This alone represents 29% of our confirmed cases since March—evidence that we are worse off than the beginning of our pandemic. Of greater concern is Guam’s hospitalization rate for COVID-19. While our hospitalization rate remained stable at just two to three a couple of weeks ago, it stands at 11 today.

We live in a small community. When a business closes, odds are I know the family who owned it. I likely ate there or shopped there myself. I spent years trying to help small businesses thrive, now I am doing everything I can to save lives. We must do all we can to make our island healthy again.

Our economy cannot be built by sacrificing the health of our community. We lost five innocent people to this virus. We are acting immediately so five more people don’t pay that price. Now is not the time to divide our island—now is the time to unite and fight together. I ask the Chamber to heed this call,” the governor stated.

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