CNMI Public Health Prepared For Possible MERS Cases

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Plans in place are being beefed up to address outbreak in Korea

By Richelle Agpoon-Cabang

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 16, 2015) – Officials of the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation assure the community that there are no cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS on island and that they remain aggressive in their emergency preparedness tactics.

CHCC Chief Executive Officer Esther Muna, Public Health and Hospital Emergency Preparedness program director and Commonwealth Health Center medical director John Doyle held a press conference at CHC on Sunday to confirm a suspected MERS case on Guam.

But, they said, "we are in good hands."

The individual suspected to have MERS was quarantined on Guam from Thursday to Saturday after the government of Guam and healthcare officials were notified by South Korean authorities that the person came from a place where MERS cases were being treated.

"The individual was on Guam for several days before the officials were notified that the person came from a place in South Korea where there are confirmed MERS cases," Villagomez said.

But he said the person was cleared and allowed to leave Guam on Saturday.

"The person did not show any symptoms of MERS," he said.

CNMI remains safe

Villagomez, Muna and Doyle said CHCC is continuously and aggressively working with the Marianas Visitors Authority, CNMI Homeland Security, the Commonwealth Ports Authority and U.S. Customs & Border Protection to make sure that all emergency plans are in place.

"We are beefing up our emergency plans and putting out information for travelers and the community about MERS and how to avoid it," Villagomez said.

He said after they received information about the Guam case, they started doubling their efforts with regard to MERS awareness and printed more informational material such as posters and flyers for dissemination.

Muna said all CNMI government agencies including the Office of the Governor are collaborating with them.

"The good thing about the CNMI is that we are seeing a lot of collaboration," she added.

In addition, CHCC remains in contact with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Muna said the local healthcare team and government officials have been meeting constantly and discussing emergency mechanisms against MERS for more than two weeks now.

She said they are keeping themselves updated.

Doyle said although the CNMI has a high possibility of having to deal with a MERS case because it is a tourist destination and a melting pot of cultures, all MERS emergency protocols are in place.

"We already have a plan and we continue to work on our emergency mechanisms," he added..

To prevent MERS or any flu virus, members of the public are encouraged to practice good hygiene and frequent handwashing.

"Preventing MERS like any flu virus is all about proper hygiene," Vilalgomez said.

They are also advising people to use hand sanitizers or alcohol after touching things that are in constant contact with others.

No screening at the airport

There is no screening at the airport for MERS but the CBP has designated an area to check and monitor passengers that may have MERS.

Moreover, CHCC and MVA are now working on a form that is to be filled out by passengers of incoming flights.

"It will help us determine if the person came from an area with MERS cases or if they have flu-like symptoms," Doyle said.

The forms will be checked by healthcare officials as soon as the passengers get out of the plane. They will be checked again by customs officers.

Doyle said if a person is suspected of having MERS, he or she will be quarantined for his or her safety and the safety of the community.

Villagomez said the form will be out by Tuesday or Wednesday this week and will be available in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Bangladeshi, English and Russian.

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