Passengers traveling through the A.B. Won Pat International Airport on Guam are subjected to thermal imaging scans to measure body temperatures as authorities battle the spread of the coronavirus.

Pacific Daily News

As Thanksgiving approaches, thousands of Guam residents weigh the risk of pandemic travel. Among this group of people, college students face a daunting challenge: How to safely return home but avoid bringing a deadly virus.

In a country with 250,000 coronavirus deaths, universities nationwide are allowing students to go home for a long Thanksgiving break and finish their semesters remotely.

So what are experts recommending to students to reduce the possibility carrying the coronavirus with them?

Public Health website 

All college students returning to Guam are subject to quarantine. Proof of negative test results outside of Guam aren’t accepted.

The Department of Public Health and Social Services website delineates requirements prior to travel. Incoming passengers, regardless of age, should read the site ahead of time, advised spokeswoman Janela Carrera.

When arriving at the airport, passengers can expect to fill out briefing forms and wait for a shuttle bus between the airport and the quarantine facility, Carrera said.

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Incoming passengers must comply with the voluntary quarantine order for 14 days from their date of arrival, according to the Public Health guidance memo.

“Transportation will be provided from the government of Guam quarantine facility to A.B. Won Pat Guam International Airport for those traveling by air,” the memo states. “However, transportation for individuals departing by sea will be the responsibility of the vessel agent.”

Military guards escort people between the airport and the hotel, then bring them to their quarantine rooms.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, patrons and travelers visiting to the Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport can expect to undergo a thermal sreening for body temperature upon their entry to the facility as seen here on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020 (Photo: Rick Cruz/PDN)

Right now, incoming passengers quarantine at Dusit Beach Resort Guam for six days, according to Dr. Hoa Nguyen, chairman of the governor’s physicians advisory group.

A person “may only leave the quarantine location for medical emergencies and approved appointments,” the memo states. Family members can deliver food and amenities to the hotel, though they cannot meet the quarantined person. 

On the sixth day, passengers take a COVID-19 test. If results return negative in 24 hours, they complete the remaining week of quarantine at home. Every day, the government randomly calls to check on passengers.

If a passenger tests positive for the virus, they will be isolated at The Bayview Hotel Guam, with overflow moved to Garden Villa Hotel.

People can also remain in hotel quarantine for the duration of the two weeks.

Safety measures

As has been true with much of the island’s health response, experts caution students from gathering in large groups and advise the usual: wear a face mask, wash your hands, and social distance at least six feet.

Bring extra masks to account for the long flights and layovers. Sit near empty seats and avoid crowds.

Once you arrive and finish quarantine, take extra precautions and isolate yourself a few more days.

“Although it’s a cherished time to be back home, be mindful if you see your family to keep your distance,” Carrera said.

During the festive season, the flu comes around and increases the chances of a viral infection. In areas with colder temperatures, though Guam is an exception, the chances of contracting the virus increase too.

“We have been anticipating a spike, not a second wave, and perhaps an increase around the holidays,” Carrera said.

She reminds the general public of the ultimate goal — to prevent the spread of the virus and end the mounting death toll.

“The community, even your family, would understand that seeing you in the flesh (is enough),” Carrera said. “There’s a way to celebrate without the need to be so close to one another.”

Public Health will soon release updated government orders for the holidays. Carrera didn’t specify the exact date or hint at details.

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Family threat

Quarantine serves as a safety net, Nguyen said. He said Public Health can miss a few cases, even after mandatory quarantine, but Guam’s positive rates are rising exponentially.

If families live in multigenerational households, a young person returning home has a chance of bringing the virus to their parents or grandparents.

“Typically younger people don’t have severe symptoms. Some get a few coughs and a headache here and there,” Nguyen said. “The key here is that you put people like the elderly with chronic illnesses at risk. The highest rates of positivity occur at the gatherings outside of the home.”

He added that most of the positive cases on Guam occur in people ages 20 to 40.

No one wants to risk losing a family member during the holidays.

“We want to see them next holiday,” Nguyen said.

Reach reporter Anne Wen at [email protected] 

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