Guam mourns first Covid-19 death

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HAGÅTÑA — A 68-year-old woman, who died early morning Sunday while being treated for Covid-19 at the Guam Memorial Hospital, became the island’s first coronavirus fatality, officials said in a web conference Sunday.

Dr. Joleen Aguon, the governor’s Covid-19 advisor, said the woman had no travel history, but had contact with a traveler. She was admitted to GMH for fever and shortness of breath on March 15 and stayed at the hospital throughout the week. She died at 1:30 a.m. Sunday.

“Before she could clinically decline, the patient and her family had made a decision not to undergo any extreme life-saving measures, so for the past 36 hours, she was placed in comfort care,” Aguon said.

The patient died due to comorbidity. Besides Covid-19 infection, the patient had multiple existing conditions such as end-stage renal disease, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, and hypertension, Aguon said. Regardless of Covid-19 infection, Aguon said the patient’s immune system had already been suppressed.

Public Health Director Linda DeNorcey said one of the people the deceased patient had been in contact with tested positive for coronavirus while the rest had been cleared.

“As a soldier and a surgeon, I can tell you that the toughest part of the job is losing somebody under your care,” said Dr. Mike Cruz, medical advisor to Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero. “As we mourn our first death, work must not stop and cannot stop.”

Gov. Lourdes Leon Guerrero said according to law, the deceased must be either buried or cremated within 24 hours. “We are working with the family and the funeral home,” the governor said.

Funeral service, according to church protocol, will be limited to family members to ensure limited contact with the public.

The first fatality was among the 15 confirmed Covid-19 cases on Guam. They were all in isolation, “either at GMH or at home temporarily until they were transferred to the Skilled Nursing Facility, which took place Saturday and this was done in accordance with [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance,” Cruz said.

He said those who are temporarily placed in home isolation were subject to monitoring by the public health staff, which includes home visit and phone calls to check in.

Of the 15 cases, Cruz said six are in their 60s, three in their 50s, three in their 40s, two in their 30s. The youngest patient is in his/her 20s. Most of the infected individuals previously traveled to the Philippines, Cruz said.

“There is strong evidence that Covid-19 has spread throughout the community,” Cruz said. Most of the affected patients are from the northern, central, and southern villages, he added.

Officials again reminded the public to stay home, exercise good hygiene, wash hands, and practice social distancing by maintaining a physical distance of six feet from other people.

“Though these measures are not dramatic, they are the most effective things we can do to combat the spread of Covid-19,” Cruz said.

While the Office of the Governor has been issuing updates on the status of Covid-19 infections on Guam on a daily basis since the first three cases were detected last week, limited information has been causing distress among island residents, who sometimes resort to relying on rumors and speculations on social media.

“The island is in a state of panic, and a lot of this has to do with the lack of information being circulated by the government,” Sen. James Moylan said in a letter to the governor.

The coronavirus updates on uam, provided daily by the Joint Information Center, typically include only the number of confirmed cases, the number of people tested as well as the usual hygiene and social isolation reminders. While the latest government update released Friday included information of the ages of the Covid-19 patients and identified those with travel history, the information does not include the areas where they came from, when they arrived, and which flights they were on.

“Being in the healthcare industry prior to my role as a senator, I recognize privacy laws,” Moylan said. “While we don’t expect our government to release any names or pertinent information of the patients, we expect to at least provide information such as the possible whereabouts of these individuals so that island residents can take additional precautionary measures with their families. That is not asking for too much.”

On Friday, GMH disclosed that a patient who was initially admitted for an illness not related to Covid-19 was later diagnosed with the dreaded virus. The late detection is feared to have exposed GMH employees to Covid-19.

“It was unfortunate that through third party information, the community learnt last night that several patients who were diagnosed with the virus were sent home for isolation versus being placed at the designated isolation center at the Skilled Nursing Facility in Barrigada Heights,” Moylan said.

He warned that the decision to send the patients home, notwithstanding its medical reason, may have added a greater level of exposure to not only the family members but also those with whom they may have been in contact.

Moylan reminded the governor of elected officials’ responsibility to their constituency.

“But of course, with transparency and additional information, we would have a better understanding and details of this policy, hence provide island residents an assurance that safety is paramount,” Moylan said.

The Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services said as of Sunday evening, a total of 27 cases had tested positive and 126 cases tested negative for Covid-19. All 26 remaining confirmed cases were in isolation, the department added.

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