Superior Court Judge Elyze Iriarte has ruled that the Department of Public Health and Social Services can not place passengers whose origin of travel is the CNMI in a government facility.
“So long as there is no community spread of COVID-19 in the CNMI, DPHSS is enjoined from quarantining passengers originating from the CNMI in a government facility,” ordered Judge Elyze Iriarte.
However, Public Health may continue to require a 14-day home quarantine for incoming passengers from the CNMI.
The decision and order were made in response to petitioner Joseph Lopez Jr.’s request for relief filed on November 3rd.
Lopez, a Guam resident, challenged Public Health’s mandatory quarantine protocols, after returning from travel in the CNMI. He argued that quarantining in a government facility is not the least restrictive means necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Judge Iriarte stated: “The question before the Court then is whether traveling from the CNMI, where there has reportedly been no community spread of COVID-19 for an extended period, mitigates the risk that requires at least six days in a government facility.”
In coming to her decision, Judge Iriarte addressed the reliability of the CNMI’s data on community spread and whether the CNMI has adequately responded to the pandemic, finding that the CNMI’s systematic testing strategy sufficiently mitigates the risks of spreading COVID-19, further finding Lopez’s experience upon arriving at the CNMI “persuasive.”
Lopez claimed he was tested immediately upon arriving in Saipan, then transferred to a government quarantine facility for five days and issued a second test on day five.
The court then looked at whether other potential factors would increase the risk that individuals traveling from the CNMI are infected with COVID-19, focusing on the reliability of testing — an issue that has persisted in quarantine hearings.
She noted that Public Health does not recognize pre-travel tests as an indicator that the individual is not infected with COVID-19, pointing out that in the Ikei case, pre-travel tests only represent a single point in time and not an infection occurring while en route to Guam.
However, as the judge also pointed out, there is an exception to this policy. Travelers arriving from countries with no reported cases are permitted to bypass government quarantine completely and no test is required.
While Public Health and Lopez agree that arriving from a country with no reported cases differs from arriving from the CNMI where there has been no community spread for an extended period, the court noted that the CNMI still reports new cases, albeit all originating from incoming passengers.
The court acknowledged that given the contagious nature of the virus, the situation in the CNMI can change. Therefore her order is only applicable for as long as there is no community spread of COVID-19 in the CNMI.