- American Samoa, a US territory in the Pacific, has recorded its first COVID-19 case.
- The case was a traveler who flew into the island from Hawaii on September 13.
- American Samoa had managed to maintain zero cases throughout the pandemic by keeping its borders shut.
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The case was detected on the island on September 16 during a quarantine period for travelers who flew in from Honolulu to the capital city of Pago Pago on September 13, per a statement from the American Samoa Department of Homeland Security.
As of September 17, there were 260 travelers serving a mandatory 10-day quarantine in two hotels on the island, according to the homeland security department.
Before September 16, American Samoa was one of the only places in the world that were completely COVID-19-free. The territory managed to maintain its COVID-zero record by essentially cutting itself off from the rest of the world, halting flights and imposing social distancing measures in the early stages of the pandemic, per The New York Times.
“The discovery of this positive case during quarantine highlights the importance of why our process is critical to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It further highlights the importance of maintaining our current quarantine protocols,” wrote American Samoa Gov. Lemanu Mauga in the statement.
Mauga is in quarantine because he was on the Monday flight from Hawaii, per the AP. The flight was one of the first planes to operate on the route after it was suspended in March 2020, according to the AP.
Gabor Kelen, the director of Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Emergency Medicine, told The Washington Post it was surprising that American Samoa managed to be COVID-free for so many months, but said it was not possible to maintain this “COVID-zero” approach in the long-term.
“Can any nation, entity, territory, forever and ever evade coronavirus? I think that answer is almost for sure no,” Kelen told The Post. “Think of it almost like a pressure cooker. As soon as you release the valve just a little, it’s over.”
As of September 20, American Samoa has fully vaccinated just under half – 48.5% – of its population.