USAG-KA Commander Addresses Community
USAG-KA Commander Col. Tom Pugsley shared updates and information about changing quarantine and travel protocols for the Republic of the Marshall Islands at a Kwajalein community town hall at the Island Memorial Chapel July 15, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Jessica Dambruch) (Photo Credit: Jessica Dambruch) VIEW ORIGINAL

“Thank you for showing up today for a topic most of you are pretty interested in for various reasons,” said Col. Pugsley. “Maybe you have plans to leave and you want to know what the impacts are going to be; maybe you have kids in school.

As you are aware, last week the RMI published their roadmap to reopening the borders. After two and a half years, they are serious about trying to off-ramp from the excessive tactics, techniques and procedures we’ve been living under.

That has opened up a lot of questions and unfortunately, a lot of speculations and assumptions. The purpose for the town hall today is to bring everyone together to share what we know right now, to share some expectations with you and hopefully do some expectation management so people aren’t making assumptions as to what is going to happen. More importantly, this meeting will allow you to understand what we can expect and allow us to start planning and preparing.

How will USAG-KA implement the RMI’s COVID program?

The RMI quarantine procedures and off ramp plan is slightly different than ours. Ours is a little more deliberate in how we are reducing quarantine. We’ll talk about where we are headed over the next three months until Oct. 1, when the RMI expects to open its borders.

We’ll also talk about what opening the borders means. It does not mean what most people think it means.

We will talk about things you can do to plan and prepare for the inevitability of COVID entering this country. Many of us have been here throughout the entire pandemic. Some of us have been back to the U.S.

We want to make sure we all understand what we can expect so we can mitigate many of the mistakes made back in the States. Our goal here, our job, is to prepare this community to accept COVID, unwillingly, I know, and not to overreact. We can avoid pitfalls which the U.S. and every other country in the world, minus about three, have already lived through.

The rest of the world has moved on from COVID-19, and now it’s time for the RMI and us here on USAG-KA to go through the same process while hopefully avoiding some of the same experiences. Let’s learn from the mistakes and do it better and more efficiently and effectively, so that when COVID does come to this country, we can arrive at a steady state faster than others have and get back to the mission and operations.

Where have we been and where are we going?

The RMI was slow in reacting to changes that the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization and most of the world went through. We went about 25 months operating under COVID with a total reduction of about 16 days in quarantine. What we’ve seen over the last six months is more than 12 days of reductions. So, the RMI is getting much faster about making changes. For the first two years, we went about six or eight months without any significant change in the reduction of quarantine.

As of July 1, we are at three days of quarantine in Hawaii and 10 days here on Kwajalein.

Come Aug. 1, I’ve directed that we are going to go to zero days in Honolulu. Due to the testing requirements from the RMI, it will be nearly impossible to meet that. So, we are going down to two days in Honolulu. That will probably be where we will stay until the borders are truly open and there is no more quarantine or any restriction of movement requirements. That will probably be sometime after COVID sweeps through this country.

We are releasing our first tranche at 10 days this week. When I say 10 days, the RMI testing requirement requires us to do a Day 10 day-of-release test.

Unfortunately, because of how long it takes us to run that many PCR tests, we actually don’t release until the morning of Day 11. That is how we will be operating for the next few months. It’s our hope working with the medical staff that we can work out a testing scheme where we can get people out on Day 10.

On Oct. 1, we will maintain two days of quarantine and testing in Honolulu.

Individuals will check-in to the Hale Koa hotel, have a PCR test that night and an antigen test the next day. If both are negative, you will fly out the next day to Kwajalein. If either of those tests are positive, you are staying in quarantine there for a week and will retest with the next tranche, very similar to how we’re doing it now.

Oct. 1 and beyond

For the RMI to open the borders on Oct. 1, their mark on the wall, they have placed a stipulation of a vaccination rate of 95 percent for the country. But, don’t be surprised if it lasts a little longer.

The RMI is serious about the reduction of quarantine that follows their roadmap.

The reason the RMI had 21 border cases last week is because when travelers arrive in Honolulu, they got there two days earlier for the mandatory tests. There was no quarantine placed on them. People went out to restaurants and shopped. About eight or nine got COVID after their tests. The rest were from inter-quarantine spread here. That is why I am not a big fan of early testing.

If you’re coming to work on USAG-KA, we will keep you in quarantine in Honolulu for the two days of testing. This helps to significantly mitigate and reduce risk.

We will be relaxing some of the standards when we go down to the two to five days of quarantine. We will no longer require individuals in quarantine to keep their windows and doors shut. We will open up some outdoor space in their front and back yards so they will have access and the ability to go outside to take out the trash or let their pets out as long as you stay within the parameters marked in your yard with signage or a red spray-painted area. We will monitor and the community will monitor. If people break the rules, I will put them on the next plane out.

We will probably keep one special delivery instead of twice a week and reducing the number of people per residence for the quarantine facilities.

Check out next week’s edition of The Kwajalein Hourglass for more information about USAG-KA’s developing COVID-19 mitigation plans, as well as questions and answers from the July 15 COVID-19 town hall. The latest information will be shared across all island messaging platforms to help residents stay informed and to feel safe and secure in preparing for the changes to come.

For more information, community members are encouraged to call the Commander’s Hotline at 5-1098.