Public Health warns of another spike in COVID-19 cases after the New Year holiday weekend

Public Health COVID testing (PNC file photo)

The Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services on Thursday warned that the island may see another rise in COVID-19 cases after the New Year holiday, similar to what occurred this week after the 3-day Christmas break.

Data analyst Vince Campo, from the DPHSS Surveillance team, said they are expecting another spike in COVID-19 cases by about the middle of next week due to the traditional celebrations and gatherings that will be held during this New Year weekend.

After the Christmas break, the number of COVID-19 cases spiked slightly, increasing to 26 on Monday and then to 43 on Tuesday. Apart from the holiday gatherings, Campo also attributed the spike to the fact that there were no COVID tests conducted during the Christmas holiday weekend because Christmas Day fell on a Saturday.

Campo said we’re facing the same pattern again this New Year’s weekend, with fewer tests and more social gatherings.

“We do expect to see a high number of positive cases come Tuesday. We expect that on Tuesday we are going to see quite a bit of a spike because of our holiday gatherings and our limited testing,” Campo said during Thursday’s DPHSS media briefing.

Campo identified some of the “driving factors” that are driving the current spike in positive cases. One, of course, is the holiday season.

“Especially here on Guam, we have a very community-based culture. And so definitely during the holidays, we like to gather and we like to celebrate, and this could be very risky for COVID-19, especially if we’re not following the three W’s — the wear your mask, wash your hands, and watch your distance,” he said.

Campo pointed out that we have another 3-day weekend coming up and they don’t want to see the spike in positive cases happen again after the New Year weekend.

“Testing sites are going to be closed, most likely for the New Year weekend. And we might expect the same trends because it’s just a rehash of what we saw during Christmas. And the limited testing was another driving force that drove the increase in positive cases during the Christmas weekend,” he said.

Last, but not least, Campo said another driving factor were the travel cases. This week, a number of the COVID-positive cases reported recent travel history. With the surging number of COVID-19 cases worldwide, especially in the US and Europe, Campo said this is a valid cause for concern.

“So basically what’s happening is we are seeing an influx of passengers coming back home for the holidays. Maybe they are not from here and they’re just visiting family or on the way back home. And of course that all relates to the holiday season with our gatherings and celebrations. These travelers are either coming back home for Christmas or just returning home after visiting loved ones from off-island,” Campo says.

Because of the increase in COVID-positive travelers, Campo said there has also been a corresponding increase in the number of people in GovGuam’s isolation facility.

“We have seen an increase in our isolation facility. We normally have only from three to four, but now we’re at 12 so far. So we are doing our best to kind of capture these as soon as possible,” he said.

Campo said they are also monitoring all passengers in their Sara alert. “This is basically a 7-day monitoring system. Passengers are asked about any possible symptoms. Their answers are then collated and submitted in a report. If you are experiencing a symptom, someone will call you up and schedule you for testing right away. That’s how our monitoring works,” he said.

One bit of good news, Campo said, is that Public Health is now shipping its specimens for genome sequencing to Hawaii instead of the mainland. Because of this, theoretically, Campo said they should be getting genome sequencing results faster because of the shorter distance involved.

“So the result is a faster turnaround time. They’re giving us two weeks but we’re still waiting patiently for those sequencing results to come back,” Campo said.

Janela Carrera, DPHSS public information officer, also reminded everyone to follow the congregation limits during this holiday weekend’s social gatherings.

“It is going to be a new year weekend with lots of celebrations. But please be mindful of the congregation limits. This year has been very challenging, but also something worth celebrating, too because we did have this huge Delta surge that we were able to get out of and overcome. Hopefully, the New Year is something that won’t be as challenging,” Carrera said.