Coronavirus: What you need to know

Apr 2, 2020
Coronavirus: What you need to know

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is tracking the progression of the coronavirus and considers the virus to be a serious threat to public health. Here is what you need to know to protect yourself and your family.



What is COVID-19?

The coronavirus—official name, COVID-19—causes a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. Symptoms are similar to the flu and include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. 

Coronavirus began in China and has spread to multiple countries. If you have traveled within the last 14 days, please contact your doctor and the public health authorities at the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation.

How can I protect myself and others?

Below are steps you can take to reduce your risk of infection and protect others from getting sick:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water regularly, especially after using the bathroom and before eating. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used if they are at least 60% alcohol. See the CDC’s Handwashing website.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze. If you can, cough or sneeze into your arm, not your hands.
  • If you are feeling sick
    • Stay at home and away from others unless it is to go see the doctor.
    • Wear a facemask if you are around others.
    • Disinfect frequently used surfaces and items

Is it safe to travel?

The CDC does not recommend travel to China, Iran, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and most European countries. Most foreign nationals who have been in one of these countries during the previous 14 days will not be allowed to enter the United States.

Additionally, the CDC recommends that travelers avoid all non-essential travel to Australia, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Israel, Malaysia, and South Korea. 

Older adults and people with existing chronic medical conditions are at high risk. If you must travel internationally, consider enrolling in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program for important alerts and updates. Check here for regular CDC updates on international travel.

How can I stay informed?

For the most up to date information on coronavirus, please visit the CDC’s website.  

The Commonwealth Health Center provides regular coronavirus updates here.

What is the situation in the Northern Mariana Islands?

On March 17, 2020, Governor Ralph Torres declared a state of emergency in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in response to the continued spread of COVID-19.  The CNMI Public School System has declared all physical campuses on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year

As of March 30, 2020, the CNMI Office of the Governor declared that a mandatory curfew is now in effect for all CNMI residents. All individuals must be home, and stay home, by 7PM. Exceptions apply to first responders, medical workers, law enforcement, private sector employees on duty, and residents going to or returning from medical treatment. 

What is the latest news on COVID-19 testing nationwide?

- updated April 2, 2020

  • To date, 94 CDC, state and local public health labs have tested more than 1.1 million individuals.
  • To date, 30 federal Community-Based Testing Sites (CBTS) have screened more than 37,716 individuals..
  • The Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) continues to ship medical equipment nationwide.
  • A shipment of medical supplies that include respirators, surgical masks, face shields and surgical gowns is expected to arrive in the Marianas by April 1, according to FEMA.

COVID-19 Notices from Your Congressional Office

District offices now open. In keeping with the Governor’s directive for the Marianas, the congressional district offices are now open on a limited basis, weekdays:

  • Rota – 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (lunch hour closed)
  • Tinian – 8:30a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (lunch hour closed)
  • Saipan – 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

No more than two members of the public can be admitted at the same time and we request that constituents call ahead and make an appointment. Masks will be required within the offices. We encourage constituents to continue to minimize exposure to the risk of infection by using electronic means of communication. E-mail: Phone: Saipan: 670.323.2647; Tinian: 670.433.2647; Rota: 670.532.2647; and Washington: 202.225.2646. Per guidance of the Attending Physician Washington staff continue to maximize teleworking.

Legislative Updates

FACT SHEET: How the COVID-19 Federal Financial Relief Packages Affect the Northern Mariana Islands

On March 18, 2020, House Democrats' Family First Act has passed Congress and is now Public Law 116-127. PL 116-127 guarantees free COVID-19 testing, provides paid leave, supports strong unemployment benefits, and expands food assistance. You can read the text of the legislation here and a summary of the text here.

  • Under the provisions of this law, the CNMI has been granted a WIC physical presence waiver until May 31, 2020. Anthropometric and bloodwork requirements under the WIC program may be deferred for the period that this waiver is in effect. 

On March 27, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a third coronavirus bill  and the President signed it into law. Although access to the House floor was limited to reduce risk of spreading the virus, I felt I had to be there to express the gratitude of the people of the Marianas for the help being provided to our families, schools, businesses, and the Commonwealth government. Your congressional office was hard at work all week for our islands and we know there is more work ahead. Read our summaries, below, of how the new law, Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or “CARES,” Act, applies in the Marianas.

  • Direct aid to CNMI.
    • The Commonwealth will receive an estimated $37.8 million of the set-aside for non-state area governments in the CARES Act. The $3 billion is divided among American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Marianas, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands based on population. I made this direct payment to local government a top priority in my advocacy for the Marianas and by leading insular area Delegates in the effort. The CARES Act, as originally introduced by Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, had no direct aid for insular or state governments. But we were able to get funding added to the bill in negotiation. The Commonwealth and other insular governments receive about $700 per capita. The average for states is about $460. The CARES Act is much less generous to insular governments than legislation introduced by House Democrats, however. So, as we move to coronavirus “phase four,” getting more direct aid to the Commonwealth government will continue to be a priority.
  • ​Money for schools increased
    • The final version of the CARES Act includes up to $153 million for kindergarten through high school and for colleges in the insular areas. As Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, I prioritized school funding during negotiations and got an increase from the $100 million in an earlier bill. With the Commonwealth unable to keep up with what it owes the Public School System, this new money from Congress will pay teacher and staff salaries in the weeks and months ahead and eventually help our schools reopen. PSS and Northern Marianas College may also be able to use the money to invest in their distance-learning infrastructure, so our young people can continue their education, even in the middle of the coronavirus crisis. Funding allocations for each insular area will be determined by the Secretary of Education based on her determination of need.
  • $960/wk unemployment benefit
    • Workers in the Marianas, who lose their private sector or government job because of the coronavirus, will receive weekly unemployment checks. Marianas workers will get a benefit equal to the national average unemployment compensation benefit—about $360 a week—plus an additional federal supplement of $600, about $960 per week in total. Press reports generally say the CARES Act provides 4 months of unemployment benefits. But that is an extra 13 weeks (4 months) on top of the normal 26 weeks that state systems provide. For the Marianas I was able to get the same total: 39 weeks of benefits. This direct help for workers and their families to make up for lost income was another of my top priorities. It was hard, however, because the Commonwealth has never set up an unemployment system to protect workers who lose a job through no fault of their own. And Congress usually uses state unemployment systems to get checks to laid-off workers. The Commonwealth government will administer these new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments with 100 percent federal funding.
  • Taxpayer recovery rebates
    • Marianas taxpayers are eligible for the same “recovery rebate” being paid everywhere else in the United States. Individual taxpayers will receive up to $1,200 and joint filers up to $2,400, with an additional $500 per child. The rebate phases out at annual incomes over $75,000. Social Security recipients, who did not file an income tax return, will receive the credit automatically based on information in their 2019 Social Security Benefit Statement. A person, who is not a U.S. citizen or national, is generally eligible for the rebate, as long as they resided in the Marianas for at least 31 days in 2020. As with the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the federal government will cover the full cost of the recovery rebate, another point I insisted on throughout the negotiations. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin has said the rebates will be delivered within three weeks to U.S. taxpayers. In the Marianas, the Commonwealth government is responsible for how quickly rebates are processed and how quickly the money gets into our economy.
  • Grants, loans for business: $375B
    • The CARES Act has a total of $375 billion in grants and loans for businesses to weather the crisis and a loan forgiveness program for businesses that retain employees despite the downturn. Included is the aid for airlines I sought, $29 billion in grants, plus $3 billion for contractors, and $29 billion for loans and loan guarantees to airlines, repair stations and ticket agents. The aviation industry is critical to our tourism economy and our everyday life. So, the Act includes assurances that air carriers, who get federal help, maintain service to remote communities like ours. $10 billion in grant aid is also provided for airports, if they agree to retain 90 percent of their workforce. The Small Business Administration’s Emergency Economic Injury Grants program gets an infusion of cash to address demand caused by the coronavirus. A Small Business Debt Relief Program will help cover monthly loan payments for cash-strapped businesses. And the CARES Act will provide free counseling through Small Business Development Centers to help businesses find the right federal program to meet their needs. Click here for a comprehensive guide to these programs.
  • For hospitals, health workers, research: $200B
    • The CARES Act makes $100 billion available to reimburse Medicare or Medicaid-enrolled suppliers and healthcare providers and for public hospitals to cover costs associated with the coronavirus. Funds can be used for:
      • Building or construction of temporary structures
      • Retrofitting facilities
      • Leasing of properties
      • Medical supplies and equipment including personal protective equipment
      • Testing supplies
      • Increased workforce and trainings
      • Emergency operation centers
      • Surge capacity
    • Guidance on applying is forthcoming from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Kagman and community health centers nationwide get $1.32 billion in supplemental funding. The National Health Service Corps, a program that incentivizes healthcare providers to practice in medically underserved communities, is extended at current funding levels through November 30, 2020. Telehealth services are expanded so providers, including community health centers, may treat patients using e-visits and reduce the contact that spreads the disease. And there is a substantial investment in research for treatments and vaccines.
  • $55m for insular area needs
    • Because the U.S. insular areas may have needs uniquely different than the rest of the nation and have limited financial resources, we have included an appropriation of $55 million for the Interior Department’s Assistance to Territories funds in the CARES Act. This week, Interior announced award of $858,924 from this account to the Pacific Island Health Officers Association. The money will be used to purchase coronavirus test kits for American Samoa, Guam, the Marianas, and the Freely Associated States. Last week, Interior awarded $366,900 to the Marianas from this assistance fund to procure personal protective equipment and hygienic supplies for government workers and others at risk of exposure to the coronavirus. The need is clear and now there is additional funding.