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It’s A US Territory Where The Coronavirus Never Arrived — But Some Residents Can’t Get Home

Courtesy of Crystal Veavea

Crystal Veavea (left) along with her daughter, Miracle, collectively earlier than the pandemic.

Crystal Veavea didn’t know when she boarded a flight from American Samoa on March 9 that she could be saying goodbye to her household for months on finish. The 38-year-old often flies backwards and forwards from her house in Pago Pago to Lake Elsinore, California, each different month to be handled for polycythemia vera, a type of blood most cancers. But this time, she was apprehensive about touring when the coronavirus was beginning to unfold around the globe.

“I contacted my doctor and said, ‘Hey, can I not come? Can I skip one of my medical treatments?’ And he said no,” Veavea advised BuzzFeed News.

So Veavea flew to California for her most cancers therapy as she was advised to and was scheduled to return April 9 — however in late March, the federal government in American Samoa closed the borders and suspended flights to and from the island. She was not capable of return house.

“So now I’m stuck here,” Veavea stated. “I have no family here — it’s just me.”

Even as greater than 217,000 individuals have died of COVID-19 within the US, American Samoa has had zero recorded circumstances of the virus. The distant US territory — a small island positioned within the Pacific Ocean, roughly equidistant between Hawaii and New Zealand — is the only a part of the nation that has managed to stay fully COVID-free, largely as a result of governor’s transfer in late March to fully shut off the island to the skin world to stop the virus from coming in.

The determination has stored its 55,000 residents freed from the coronavirus — but it surely has additionally left a whole lot of them stranded within the States, removed from their properties, for months on finish and with no indication of when they are going to be allowed to return. Many of those individuals went to the US for medical therapy or to look after ailing relations, not realizing that selection would imply getting caught miles away from their households and pals throughout one of the tumultuous occasions in residing reminiscence. Now, their funds are dwindling, their psychological well being is in disaster, and all they’ll do is lengthy for the day they’ll go house.

“It’s devastating, because I left my daughter behind,” stated Veavea, who hasn’t seen her household in seven months. “Having to go through treatment for cancer, it’s a battle on its own.”

Veavea is now staying within the house she owns in California, and whereas she’s grateful to have someplace to dwell, the monetary hardship of not with the ability to work to assist herself and her household weighs closely. Even worse, she is extremely lonely and her psychological well being has plummeted.

But FaceTiming her 15-year-old daughter, Miracle, is just too onerous to bear. She prefers that Miracle, who’s now being cared for by Veavea’s sister, simply message her on Facebook so she doesn’t need to undergo as a lot ache.

“[My daughter] always tells me, Mom, I really miss you. Mom, I wish you were here. Mom, I’m getting inducted into [National Honor Society]. You’re missing all my special moments,” Veavea stated. “And I promised her I was going to be there, when I was diagnosed two years ago. I promised her that I will fight. I will make sure I’ll be there for every milestone she had.”

David Briscoe / AP

A ship within the harbor at Pago Pago, American Samoa, in 2002.

Veavea is certainly one of greater than 500 stranded American Samoans who’re dealing with a brutal mixture of points, in accordance with Eileen Tyrell, a spokesperson for Tagata Tutū Faatasi Alliance of American Samoa, a grassroots group of those people and their households pushing for his or her return.

Many American Samoans are struggling monetary hardship and a few are even homeless as a result of they’ll’t make ends meet, however they’ve obtained no help from any authorities. Nearly all are painfully lonely and lacking their households.

“Some mothers lament that their younger babies don’t recognize them, even via Zoom or Facebook chat,” Tyrell advised BuzzFeed News. “Some have said their babies also cry for them at night and cannot go to sleep.”

Tyrell lives in Tacoma, Washington, however her personal mom, Maraia Malae Leiato, who lives in Aua, American Samoa, is likely one of the many caught removed from house ever since she got here to stick with her daughter for a medical process.

Courtesy of Eileen Tyrell

Eileen Tyrell (left) along with her mom, Maraia Malae Leiato.

In September, American Samoa Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga prolonged the suspension of flights to and from the island by at the least the tip of October, in accordance with Samoa News. He has beforehand stated his precedence is to “protect the lives of all residents of American Samoa despite the pressure from our stranded residents clamoring to return home.”

“We are certainly not oblivious to our residents’ earnest pleas and yearning to return home, but from our perspective, they are in a better place to seek medical assistance and sophisticated healthcare if the inevitable were to happen to any one of them,” Moliga stated.

Iulogologo Joseph Pereira, a chair for the territory’s coronavirus job pressure, echoed the sentiment this week, telling the Associated Press individuals haven’t been repatriated as a result of “the interests of the 60,000 residents on-island and protecting their lives outweighs the interest of the 600 or more residents stranded in the United States.”

“As the governor has continuously pointed out, more healthcare facilities are available in Hawaii and mainland states that they can access if they contract the virus,” Pereira stated.

But entry to healthcare services in case they contract COVID-19 comes at a value.

Some residents of American Samoa have needed to take care of immigration points. Tyrell’s mom, a citizen of Fiji who has lived in American Samoa for many years, needed to pay $450 to increase her visa to stay within the US when she realized she had no different solution to keep away from overstaying it.

But the psychological well being results are maybe probably the most urgent, Tyrell stated, each for these caught within the US and their family members again house. Feelings of isolation and hopelessness are commonplace, and she or he worries about this as the vacation season attracts close to.

“Can you imagine the holidays coming up and we are stuck in limbo, and the devastation that will cause?” she stated. “It’s unfathomable, it’s tragic, and it’s cruel.”

One of probably the most irritating issues is the paradox about whether or not there may be any plan to convey individuals house, Tyrell stated. She and different group members have tried writing a petition and contacting their authorities officers, providing concepts for a way they might safely return, however to this point nothing has made a distinction so far as they’ll inform.

Tyrell’s group shouldn’t be calling for American Samoa’s borders to be absolutely reopened — they, too, wish to maintain the island protected from COVID-19. But they need a plan to convey them house. They have brainstormed options, which they detailed in Samoa News, akin to staggering inbound flights and necessary quarantines.

Such plans should not out of the strange in terms of governments repatriating its residents through the pandemic. In Australia, residents arriving from overseas are required to quarantine in a lodge for 14 days on their very own dime. The quarantine is enforced by the navy, and people can not depart their rooms. Up till Oct. 15, individuals going to Hawaii had been additionally required to self-quarantine for 14 days, however now a detrimental COVID-19 take a look at will permit vacationers to skip quarantining fully.

“We’re not fighting against the government,” Tyrell stated. “The governor keeps saying, ‘We’re protecting the 50,000 that are on the island.’ He keeps weighing the lives of the 50,000 versus the 500 or 600. But it’s not us versus them.”

“We feel a sense of abandonment,” she added, “like we don’t count.”

Fili Sagapolutele / AP

A safety officer checks the temperature of a hospital worker coming into a medical facility in Fagaalu village, American Samoa, Oct. 2, 2020.

Veavea, the mom being handled for most cancers, shares the sensation of being deserted by her authorities. She is doing every little thing she will be able to to deal with herself till she will be able to go house to her daughter, together with seeing a therapist. She now has two emotional assist canines to maintain her firm — two huskies, named Tokyo and Bogota. “They were puppies when I got them, and now they’re 6 months old,” she stated.

Veavea doesn’t know when, however at some point, she’s going to ultimately get on a aircraft and return to American Samoa. She will eat her favourite native meals, taro and salmon oka, a dish of uncooked fish marinated in lime and coconut milk. She tries to make the meal in California, however the fish simply doesn’t style as recent. “I know the difference,” she stated.

But actually, she simply desires to hug the individuals she’s missed probably the most.

“Seeing my daughter and my family is all I want,” she stated. “Just for them to hug me, and for me to do the same. That is all I need.”

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Updated on February 24, 2021 10:22 pm

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