SAIPAN, 16 MARCH 2020 (PACIFIC ISLAND TIMES)—CNMI Governor Ralph Torres on Sunday announced a temporary shutdown of the government amid the unabated threat of Covid-19 pandemic, which has hit Guam.

“All non-essential employees of the Commonwealth’s departments and agencies are asked to stay home until further notice. We will provide additional updates on the government tomorrow. Please stay tuned to media partners and your department and agency heads for updates,” Torres said.

Guam Governor Lourdes Leon Guerrero on Sunday disclosed that three people have tested positive for Covid-19, the first cases in the region.

“Now, we understand that there are questions and concerns about banning United flights from Guam to Saipan,” Torre said. “As I have stated in February, I have no authority as Governor to stop the flights from Guam, nor do I have the authority to stop any flights to the CNMI for that matter.”

Any decision on banning flights within in U.S. jurisdictions is under the  Federal Aviation Administration’s purview

“Just like we did in January with the China flights, I will be directing the Commonwealth Ports Authority to consult with the FAA on the Guam United flights, and we will notify you once we receive an update,” Torres said.

Torres said he will meet with Commonwealth Heath Center CEO Esther Muna and the CNMI’s Covod-9 Task Force on Monday to push forward the next steps of the pandemic plan.

“As COVID-19 moves around the world and gets closer to our beautiful shores, your government is doing everything it can to contain this virus by working with the White House, federal partners, and global health officials,” Torres said.

“We will be asking individuals, regardless of travel history, who were off-island for work or travel to self-quarantine themselves for at least 14 days. We will be working with department heads and private sector partners in implementing this immediately.”

The governor said the CNMI government will begin implementing social distancing protocols within the community. “Our manamko and our loved ones with preexisting illnesses are the most vulnerable to COVID-19, and we will prioritize their safety. We ask that our family and friends, who are in this group to stay home,” he said. “If you feel sick, please stay home and contact your doctor or our hospital. We will formalize these protocols tomorrow.

The Marianas Visitors Authority Board of Directors has officially postponed the Tagaman triathlon this Saturday, while the Public School System will be suspending classes from Monday to Wednesday, which is their next Board of Education meeting. “From there, they will then make a board decision on class schedules moving forward,”

The Northern Marianas College is suspending all face-to-face classes through 17 March 2020. The transition of a majority of face-to-face courses to online platforms will occur on Wednesday 18 March 2020 while the remaining classes will transition by 23 March. A complete schedule will be provided tomorrow. NMC classes that are conducted entirely online will continue as scheduled.

“Let me be clear,” Torres said. “We know this is getting serious now more than ever. As Governor, I will continue to do everything I can, beside the good leaders in our islands, to protect you and your families. We were the first state or territory in the country to implement surveillance measures and health screening of all inbound passengers.”

He noted that information will continue to change, and urged te community to get their information from CHCC, the World Health Organisation (WHO), or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“As a strong island community, we have remained resilient in the face of the worst storms and economic downturns, and we emerged stronger because we chose to work together. When it comes to this, we have no time for politics or grandstanding. My administration and I will work with our health experts. Now is the time for vigilance, not fear or panic. Let’s work together to stay informed and help each other out,” Torres said…PACNEWS