As of last night, we have a total of 93 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with four deaths and 20 patients who have recovered. For many of the faithful, Palm Sunday is a time of hope—the declaration that in this holiest of weeks the light will defeat the dark and life can triumph over death.
As we celebrate this day and approach Easter Sunday, we must also acknowledge that faith without good works is nothing—that while we should all hope for miracles, it is wise not to rely on them alone.
For us, this means that our hope must come with action—or in this case, inaction. By staying at home and limiting your social interactions, we can significantly reduce the number of cases and we will begin to see more recoveries.
While we have directed most people to work from home, there are so many government employees who are working tirelessly to respond to this crisis behind the scenes or on the frontlines, including nurses, social workers, clinicians, and public safety officers, who are performing essential services during a very uncertain and stressful time— risking their lives for all of us.
This is why I will sign Executive Order 2020-08, which would implement a COVID-19 Response Differential Pay policy. Under this policy, Government of Guam employees will receive differential pay of up to 25% of their regular wages depending on their risk of exposure to COVID-19.
There are no words to express my gratitude and appreciation for those who risk themselves to keep others safe. And while no amount of pay would be sufficient in times like this, what we can give is certainly well-earned.
We will do all we can to make your lives easier, and this differential pay policy is a recognition of the risk you have taken in order to do your jobs.
Let me be clear, this policy is prospective. That means it is effective today. Unfortunately, I do not have the legal authority to apply this differential to the start of this crisis. I need legislative authorization to do that, and I have written to the Speaker requesting that authority as soon as it is possible.
Since the onset of this pandemic, I took aggressive steps to protect us.
I closed all nonessential government operations as well as public and private schools and Nonessential businesses and facilities were mandated to temporarily cease operations.
To continue flattening the curve, I signed Executive Order 2020-09. Under this new Executive Order, no social gatherings of any kind will be permitted. All employees working in essential businesses or functions will be required to wear masks during hours of operation. All essential businesses must limit their transactions to essential items. These items include but are not limited to medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, items that sustain life, and items that maintain the home. And effective today, the public health emergency is extended to May 5, 2020.
I know there will be some out there who say that this is not enough. A letter from Vice Speaker Nelson and Senator Shelton echoed what others in the community have requested: severe action to respond to those on our island that have been unwilling to follow public health guidance in the shadow of this deadly virus.
This pandemic, evidenced by how it has affected the entire world, is unprecedented in the modern era. And while other nations, using extraordinary powers, have had some progress in curtailing the spread of COVID-19, those jurisdictions do not recognize the same strong fundamental rights afforded to Guam’s people by the Constitution. As Governor, I must take strong measures to defeat COVID-19 while recognizing the rights of individuals grounded in the Organic Act.
While it was my intent to roll out a series of enhanced enforcement measures, my consultations with the Attorney General of Guam make clear that this new threat requires additional enforcement powers that can only be granted by the legislature.
In response, I will submit a letter to the Speaker to work with her colleagues to immediately author and pass legislation granting the governor the power to limit movement to that which is needed for the support of essential businesses, the maintenance of life sustenance, and emergent medical needs during a public health emergency.
I also asked that the legislature mirror the efforts of other legislative bodies throughout the nation that have authorized methods of enforcement, including the issuance of significant fines and penalties to those who violate an executive order.
While these needs are immediate, I respect that the Legislature must take the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of its members and support staff amid this virus. For this reason, I urged the Speaker to act as quickly as their responsible judgment will allow.
I know some of you won’t understand why I can’t enact stronger measures all by myself. Given this emergency, I would take those steps if I could. But democracies require balance, and the AG has made clear that the tools I need must come from the legislature.
In the short time since this public health emergency started, we secured designation under FEMA as a national disaster area, we achieved reimbursable use of the National Guard under Title 32, lobbied with State Governors to receive federal authorization for $111million in direct aid to Guam, we qualified SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster loan program, and within 48 hours of its enactment into law, I signed the necessary Agreement to see emergency unemployment benefits on Guam.
Each of our agencies is working now to get Guam the help it needs—even as federal agencies still develop many of the programs Congress established just days ago. And right before this press conference, members of my cabinet briefed the legislature on the status of federal aid programs and what we were doing to get them to Guam as quickly as possible.
Through our partnership with the Department of Defense, we will be receiving critical supplies we need to beat this pandemic. I just received a call from the White House, and I was informed that Guam will be receiving 30 ventilators.
I will end with this simple message: be kind to one another. All of our lives are in some way affected by this. These are uncertain times, and now more than ever, we need each other. We need each other for hope, for support, and to feel less alone. Though we must remain physically distant, remember that we are closer than we have ever been.
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