A program to repatriate residents of American Samoa who were stranded by the COVID-19 pandemic has detected five cases of the virus among travelers trying to return home.
The infections were detected among more than 160 American Samoa residents quarantined in Honolulu, Hawaii Public Radio reported Wednesday.
The U.S. territory in the Pacific, located 2,200 miles south of Hawaii, closed its borders March 13 to protect the islands from COVID-19.
The order by Democratic Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga, which was extended in July, stranded residents who were in Hawaii and other states.
As part of the new program, American Samoa residents must stop on Oahu for coronavirus screening and test negative before and after the 10-day Honolulu quarantine.
Upon returning to the American Samoa territorial capital of Pago Pago, they must quarantine again for 14 days and test negative before rejoining the community.
The five residents who tested positive were removed from the group quarantined at a Waikiki hotel.
Ginger Porter of the American Samoa COVID-19 Task Force said the discovery of the new cases shows the system is working.
“That’s why we have quarantine in place, so that we can have all of these tests done and so that we are not taking any of the positive home and then still offer them an opportunity to go home,” Porter said.
There are between 1,400 and 1,500 people registered for repatriation and officials anticipate operating one monthly flight to American Samoa.
The first flight is scheduled for Friday, while the five infected residents will return on a future flight, Porter said.
“It’s been very difficult for a lot of people. And it’s time to go home,” Porter said.
For most people, new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.