Military officials on Guam say they’re adapting to the fluidity of the coronavirus and making decisions with the government of Guam to ready the island for a response to the virus, should it make its way to our shores.
In a sit-down interview with PNC on Monday, Joint Region Marianas Chief of Staff Captain Hans Sholley emphasized the integrated response effort between the military, Department of Defense, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, DPHSS, and GovGuam.
“We live in an island community here. What happens on the island happens to all of us. So, I just want to let the people of Guam know that we are working in cooperation with the government of Guam,” said Sholley.
The captain said DoD is also working with the Indo-Pacific Command and the Pacific Fleet.
“Our first priority is to keep our service members, the men and women of the military community, safe. Our second priority is not to be a vector for transmission, and that includes the greater island of Guam. So we don’t want to be the agent that brings COVID-19 to the island. And finally, our final priority, is that we maintain our posture to be a ready fighting force to defend the United States and to defend the island of Guam,” said Sholley.
While the captain admitted a disease response at this magnitude will inevitably affect the readiness of service members, the JRM Commander, Rear Admiral John Menoni, has indicated that he wants Joint Region Marianas to maintain readiness throughout.
With travel top of mind for many on Guam, Sholley said he’s aware of the anxiety that surrounds travel, particularly as it pertains to military members traveling to affected areas and then returning to Guam.
Sholley said the military’s travel restrictions are aligned with the CDC, which upgraded South Korea to a Level 3 travel advisory last week, discouraging all non-essential travel to that country, along with China.
Chains of command are very involved in determining what is appropriate travel for areas affected by COVID-19, according to Sholley, who said that if essential and operational travel is required by military members, then there are strict guidelines in place.
“We are making sure that we do everything possible to make sure that anyone from the Department of Defense is not a vector to bring the infection to Guam,” said Sholley.
“If there was to be official travel from South Korea, there are screenings that happen on that side with medical and the chain of command screening. And then also, once they come here, just like the protocols that the Government of Guam has in place in alignment with the CDC, we have protocols that first examine whether there are any symptoms or indications of respiratory ailment and then we also discuss exactly where that person came from and if they were in fact near a known source of COVID-19.”
Sholley elaborated that chains of command, in collaboration with the CDC, are also involved in identifying anyone with any sort of respiratory distress or that may be exhibiting symptoms of the disease. He said those teams then work with the CDC, GovGuam and Naval Hospital partners, to ensure the symptoms are monitored and travel history is considered.
Quarantine and medical staff
While there are currently no additional military medical staff slated for Guam to support the coronavirus response, Sholley said that could always change in the future.
“As you know, South Korea is dealing with the immediate effects of the disease. Fortunately, we have been lucky and prepared to make sure the disease doesn’t come to our shores.”
“So, as of right now, the forces and the resources are immediately in South Korea so that is where they are needed right now. If the time comes where they are needed in Guam, I am confident that the resources will be here and that both the DOD and the CDC will make sure that they have not only an immediate response but also, forces flowing in.”
Sholley said the Joint Region Marianas along with its GovGuam partners, have “plans for contingencies” that range from a single case of the disease to a larger outbreak.
“We have been very integrated with the Government of Guam and the CDC throughout this ordeal, and it starts right at the top. The Governor and Rear Admiral Menoni had a meeting last week and the only point of discussion was COVID-19 and how we integrated and how we responded as an island.”
While the Naval Hospital and bases have not publicly been identified as possible quarantine areas, Sholley said that decision would ultimately depend on the number of people affected and, “the vectors with which it [Coronavirus] could arrive.”
When pressed on whether the Naval Hospital and bases could actually serve as quarantine areas, the captain said, “if directed to do that, we will support the CDC as the lead federal agency.”
Message to the public
Sholley said his and the Commander’s message to military members is, “to stay informed, stay in contact with your Chain of Command. Inform your family members and inform your friends. And tell them to take the precautions of good personal hygiene and also to follow legitimate sources of information like the CDC and the Guam Department of Public Health.”
“Also, stay aware. Be aware of what the symptoms are and be aware of what the steps are if you have those symptoms. Who do you report to? First, I would say obviously to your Chain of Command and then to notify a healthcare provider, if you or a family member are in distress.”
Sholley said all facets of the Military are aware and working to respond to the worldwide outbreak.
“I am interested in any potential vector for COVID-19 to come to the Island. So that could be through the Port, that could be through the airport, it could be through a DoD facility. So, it’s of our utmost concern to make sure that we have our plans and protocols in place and exercised,” said Sholley.
The Military Biologic Advisory Committee, which brings together subject-matter experts to discuss plans and current guidance, is also ramping up. This standing committee typically met once a quarter on Guam previously but is now meeting twice a week to keep officials up-to-date. The Guam Government has representatives at this meeting, as well.
The military will take part in GovGuam’s pandemic meetings this Wednesday and Thursday at the Pacific Star Hotel.
The Johns Hopkins global Coronavirus calculator had confirmed cases of the disease at over 89,000 on Monday, 80,000 of which are in mainland China.