Big Changes to a Small Island

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Big Changes to a Small Island

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At the "heart" of Polynesia, (referring to its geographic location in the Polynesian triangle) American Samoa appears as another tiny dot on the map. Nevertheless, it means the WORLD to its 55,000+ people, and to some, it is all they have ever known as their home. It is also the southernmost territory of the United States (below the Equator) and the second to the last place on earth to always welcome the New Year LAST. Perhaps it coincidently depicts the slow-paced nature of the island to which many visitors claim that "it feels like time slows down", here at a piece of heaven on earth that is deeply rooted in the Christian faith and the "Fa'aSamoa", a.k.a the Samoan culture or literally, the "Samoan way of life".
The people of our island are like a big tight-knitted family--we are all related anyway--when something good or bad happens on the west side of the island, news travels to the east faster or about the same as the speed of light! It has its disadvantages, but for the most part, it is a beautiful thing to see the collective reaction of our people when it is of happiness, support, and sympathy.
When the coronavirus started spreading rapidly in the United States in early 2020, our territory continued its commercial flights until mid-March when Hawaii's cases started to rise. Since March 2020, our borders were closed to commercial travel for the next 11 months, not including cargo flights and ships. Residents were stuck in the States for nearly a year. The first of many repatriation flights finally began in February 2021. The repatriation flights took place once a month, during which passengers would undergo a strict process of testing and reporting, a quarantined stay in Hawaii for 12 days, and another 2-weeks quarantine upon arrival in American Samoa. Throughout all repatriation and medical flights, the quarantine process was still a requirement, which was how positive cases were caught and taken care of to prevent community spread. Fast forward to February 2022, exactly a year later, news of a COVID outbreak quickly spread when it was leaked on social media that the family of a Department of Health worker tested positive for COVID at the main hospital. The general public was seeking answers and taking their concerns on social media until later on that same evening the said family tested positive, the local news channel held a Livestream in which the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and the COVID-19 Task Force officially announced the community outbreak of the virus. People rushed to the stores to buy necessities and food before the lockdown was set to begin at midnight. The lockdown was marked as Code Red, with curfews from 9pm to 4:30 am, and business hours to be from 8am to 4pm, while all government workers and non-essential employees are to stay home, except essential workers and first-responders. Students transitioned to virtual learning and now interact in class with options such as "raise hand" and/or "mute/unmute".
Our people had to adjust very quickly to the new reality we now face. A small island once free with family gatherings, church services, and close human interaction as we are known all of that sounds like a distant memory that will take some time to experience again. Beaches and parks used to be crowded with people and all the happiness they offer their surroundings, now empty and eerily quiet with a "CLOSED" sign nearby. We are masking up everywhere--with little to no physical interaction--so far with 4,700+ cumulative positive cases and a total loss of 7 souls, which has hit our dearest island with extreme sorrow. While the world has moved forward and learned to live with COVID, even opening back up and unmasking, our island is once again a little behind with the experience. It is only the beginning for us! Fortunately, our unwavering faith in God continues to be our ultimate Hope, along with the support of our loving families, beloved people, the United States, and our fellow Pacific islands. One thing we are sure of is that WE ARE RESILIENT PEOPLE, having overcome many challenges for centuries! This too shall pass...on the bright side, in order for it to pass, our journey with COVID had to begin. Now we must go through it, endure it, and overcome together AS one like we always do! God be with us...God IS with us.

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This item was submitted on April 5, 2022 by Rosie Oneata Soi using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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