CNN’s article “Pentagon staffer on Esper’s travel team in Pacific tests positive for coronavirus” on August 29, day after U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper departed Palau, sent Palau’s social media ablaze with possibility of Palau having been exposed to the virus by the high-level visit of the US Secretary of Defense.
The article’s vague statement that the “member of the Defenses Secretary Mark Esper’s team traveling in the Indo-Pacific region who helped handle his trip arrangements tested positive for COVId-19” led many to believe that one of the members of Esper’s team in Palau was positive for COVID-19. It led a media outlet in Guam to report that the staffer “will have met with members of President Remengesau staff” as part of Esper’s advance team.
The article was passed around feverishly early the next day after Esper’s visit on Facebook.
President Remengesau’s Office sent out a press release disputing the information in CNN’s article. In the press release, Remengesau said, “The CNN article is not about Palau and people of Palau should not be afraid.”
The information stated that the trip scheduler, the person mentioned in the CNN article, did not travel with Secretary Esper or anyone in his delegation.
Furthermore, it said that the person never came to Palau, had no contact with anyone who came to Palau and never flew on the same plane as those that came to Palau.
Palau did not have an advance team like that mentioned in the article because KOA MOANA Marines were already in Palau and Palau was “deemed a low security risk”.
Many concerns were raised that Secretary Esper’s team did not undergo quarantine procedures. President’s Office explained that all on the team were tested negative and submitted test results to Palau and while here, took precautionary measures such as wearing masks during their five (5) hour visit.
During the five-hour tour, Secretary Esper met with top leaders of Palau, visited the site of U.S. plane that crashed during WWII and laid wreaths in honor of those who lost their lives. As the boat carrying Secretary of Defense Esper’s and President Tommy Remengesau Jr. passed USS Bismark at Malakal Port, the KOA MOANA Marines lined up on board the ship to salute the Secretary of Defense and President Remengesau.
President Remengesau and Secretary Esper’s both gave prepared remarks on the outcome of the visit before Esper departed to Guam.