CNMI OFFICIALS DENY REPORTED SARS CASE

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SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, April 22) - Government officials
say the CNMI remains without any suspected or confirmed cases of severe acute
respiratory syndrome

The officials were reacting to a Saipan Tribune report claiming
that there was a suspected SARS case on the island.

"The public needs to know that there’s no (suspected or
confirmed) SARS case in the CNMI as of today," said Health Secretary James
U. Hofschneider yesterday.

He said the Tribune report "is not true," adding that
the government will inform the CNMI community if there are any confirmed or
suspected cases of SARS here.

"We take this matter very seriously. This is a serious
public health issue, and we will continue to be vigilant (in) our surveillance
activities," Hofschneider said.

He said he is asking the Tribune, which is owned by garment
magnate Willie Tan, to consider a retraction.

Gov. Juan N. Babauta, in a separate interview, said the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control has cleared the CNMI of any cases of SARS.

Hofschneider said if there were a suspected or confirmed SARS
case in the CNMI, the CDC Web site would have indicated it.

Dr. Richard Brostrom, medical director of public health, said
the story could have been triggered by an incident last week involving a female
patient who was admitted at the Commonwealth Health Center for "respiratory
precaution."

But the patient, he said, "was not even a suspected SARS
case."

"This patient does not fit many of the elements required
for a SARS case. Therefore, we’re quite confident to report that we don’t
have a SARS case — suspected, confirmed or otherwise," Brostrom said.

Public Health went beyond its duty by still consulting with CDC
for additional precautionary measures, he said.

Hofschneider said that while they understand the
"anxiety" caused by SARS reports, "we don’t want to scare the
public unnecessarily."

He said the media have the responsibility to disseminate
accurate information to the public, given the seriousness of the issue.

The governor said the administration will also issue separate
advisories to the Marianas Visitors Authority’s off-shore offices in Japan and
Korea, to cushion the Tribune report’s "possible impact."

Press Secretary Pete A. Callaghan said "the person who
supposedly was a suspected SARS case was suffering a respiratory ailment."

He added, "It is our position that it was irresponsible for
anybody to say that the CNMI has a suspected SARS case because we still do not
have one and we never had."

Callaghan said the report may further damage the CNMI tourism
industry.

"Because of this irresponsible reporting, our tourism will
get hurt," he added.

Brostrom, however, said the media "remain an ally of Public
Health in disseminating information to the public — but again, the media also
have the responsibility to the public to report accurate information."

April 22, 2003

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com 

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