Address by David W. Panuelo – Regarding Community Transmission of COVID-19 in the Federated States of Micronesia

My dear fellow FSM Citizens,

I come to you today, my dear citizens, to address you on a very important and urgent topic. While on my return from the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting in Suva, Fiji, I learned that, on July 19th, 2022, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) discovered its first case of COVID-19 within our communities, in both the State of Pohnpei and the State of Kosrae. As you are aware, community spread is increasing, and thousands of our citizens in our communities are already infected. Today, I will address you at length on this topic. We will discuss what our plans are to mitigate and minimize human suffering, and to mitigate and minimize negative economic impact on our country. We will discuss how you can keep yourself and your loved ones safe, and we will discuss how we will ultimately recover, and become stronger, going forward. I assure you that we will overcome COVID-19 in our country.

Before I can discuss these primary topics, however, my duty compels me to address an elephant in the room, or, in other words, something we are all aware of but have not spoken about, and to speak in equal parts with love, humility, sincerity, and openness. I acknowledge that senior officials in our Government frequently remind me that a Head of State—a sovereign—never apologizes for anything. I hear this, and in most circumstances I accept this as a normal course of duty for any Government. But while a Head of State may not apologize as a matter of principle, a man—or, more accurately, an emotionally mature human being—does.

I am sorry that I am not in our country at this time of crisis. I acknowledge that we are now indeed experiencing a crisis in our country. Many of you are becoming sick or are watching your family become sick, and lives and livelihoods are being impacted. You are hungry for information and starving for solutions. My duty is to provide these for you.

My dear fellow FSM citizens,

At this point, I will answer essential and frequently asked questions, including actions that you can take to keep yourself and your family safe.

First—How did COVID-19 arrive into the FSM when the borders remained closed?

We don’t know. Our Department of Health & Social Affairs was unable to find any potential weaknesses in the quarantine sites across the country. Given that COVID-19 has arrived in the FSM, we are unprepared to spend additional resources on exploring its origins. What is most important, now that the virus is here, is that we work together in keeping our country safe from it. What I ask is that all of us, as Micronesians, continue to see each other as brothers and sisters, and to treat each other with love. We are all in this together.

Second—Will there be a hard lockdown imposed by the National Government?

No. The FSM National Government will not impose a lockdown for any FSM State. The advice I have received from our Department of Health & Social Affairs is that the initial transition period from being COVID-19 free to COVID-19 infected will take about one to two months for each FSM State. We will see cases rise, plateau, and then lowered in our country. Afterwards, we should be fully emerged into our new status of COVID-19 protected. At the time of my message, we are already seeing that Government employees who were sick with the virus are reporting back to work.

Third—Will there be a Presidential decree regarding community transmission of COVID-19 cases in the FSM?

Yes. On July 30th, 2022, or a few days from now, I will issue a decree regarding community transmission of COVID-19 in the FSM. I will require that all persons wear masks when in public places, which some states are already enforcing. I will require all persons who feel sick to get tested and to stay home. I will request that all citizens stay home unless it is essential for them to go to work, to go shopping, or to otherwise conduct necessary errands. I will also request that all citizens practice good hygiene.

It is worth emphasizing the importance of wearing masks and trying to limit the spread of the virus. Not everyone who gets COVID-19 will become very sick. But there are people in our country who will get very sick, and people in our country who ARE already very sick. One third of our population is diabetic and one third of our population has high-blood pressure and other comorbidities, such as obesity. Wearing masks and staying home isn’t just about protecting ourselves but about protecting others, and protecting others is core to our Micronesian identity of respect for everyone we encounter.

Fourth—How does the FSM plan to mitigate and minimize health and economic suffering?

The first answer is that closing our borders in January 2020, before the vaccines existed, gave our country time to get prepared and to get vaccinated. One year ago, we mandated that all persons residing in the FSM become vaccinated. We have enough vaccines for every person in our country. The vaccine remains the most effective means we have at preventing severe disease and death. Starting on July 29th, 2022, COVID-19 vaccines for infants aged between 6 months to 4 years old will be available across the country.

The second answer is that the FSM has medicines designed for treating COVID-19. We have significant supplies of Paxlovid, and monoclonal antibodies as well. We have enough to treat more than 21,000 people, and the advice we have received from the U.S. CDC is to use these medicines as often and frequently as possible for those people who might be at risk for severe disease or death. We will continue to receive regular shipments of these medicines now that we have community spread. My instruction to the Department of Health & Social Affairs is to ensure that the State Governments have access to these supplies, and that our vulnerable populations receive them at the nearest opportunity.

The third answer is that we are working hard to ensure that essential government services and critical infrastructure are maintained. Plans are being developed for these purposes, and I have instructed key Cabinet to explore how we can replenish some of our COVID-19 related financial assistance programs. I appreciate that last week, our FSM Congress generously appropriated one million dollars to augment our Test & Treatment sites throughout the FSM.

The fourth and final answer is that we are receiving support from our friends and allies. U.S. CDC teams arrived in Pohnpei and Kosrae on July 27th, 2022. Chuuk and Yap will also receive these teams when they have community transmission. Additionally, the World Health Organization is preparing a team for deployment to the FSM.

Fifth—Will the FSM open its borders on August 1st, 2022?

The answer is yes. The FSM will fully open its borders on August 1st, 2022, which is consistent with Public Law 22-134. Soon, I will be signing the relevant regulations to implement the law.

Anyone who wishes to travel to the FSM will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including booster doses if eligible, and must have physical possession of a negative COVID-19 test result conducted via a PCR test within 72 hours of their departure from Hawaii or Guam to the FSM.

So, for example, if you have a flight at 8:30am on August 1st, 2022, from Guam to Pohnpei, you must get a PCR test sometime after 8:30am on Friday, July 29th, 2022.

Sixth—Will the FSM allow Chuuk State to remain closed until November?

The answer is no. Although I find Governor Narruhn’s arguments to keep Chuuk State closed compelling, even persuasive, the advice I have received from our FSM Department of Justice is that doing so would be unlawful. The Executive Branch implements the law, but cannot create the law, and I am compelled to follow the law as passed by the FSM Congress. The FSM’s borders will open on August 1st, 2022.

My dear fellow FSM citizens,

What is needed now is for all of us to work together in practicing peace, friendship, cooperation, and love in our common humanity with each other. We need to get vaccinated. We need to get tested. And we need to stay home if we are sick or if our family is sick. These are dark days, but we will endure beyond them. The sun will rise tomorrow, and, God willing, we will adapt to and overcome COVID-19.

God Bless You, and God Bless the Federated States of Micronesia.