Saturday, March 28, 2020

Guam’s coronavirus strengths and vulnerabilities

Street Art, Washington DC, circa 2014


The government of Guam is posting daily updates of the status of the coronavirus. As of March 28, it has conducted 366 tests with 55 positive cases and 277 negative cases.

What do these testing results tell us?

Right now, I’m in Connecticut which, as of March 27, had 1,291 confirmed cases. This is equal 0.036% of the state’s population of 3.57 million. Connecticut borders America’s coronavirus epicenter, New York. (1)

Let’s compare the number of confirmed cases in Guam to Connecticut.

Guam’s population is 164,000. With 55 confirmed cases this equals to 0.033% of the population. (2)

The number of confirmed cases on Guam is close to Connecticut's percentage. Is this a meaningful comparison? The response says it is.

Connecticut has closed schools, and so has Guam. The state recently has ordered the closing of non-essential businesses, an action on Guam.

Connecticut also recently ordered stores to try to ensure customers “maintain six feet of distance.” It is asking stores -- if they can -- to use “touchless payment technology.” Most don’t have it at this point. It also prohibits requiring employees to place items in customers’ reusable bags.

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero is being direct about the problem.

"Now is the time to act. We are not yet out of the woods. Not even close,” Gov. Guerrero said, according to a report in the Pacific Daily News.

Strengths, vulnerabilities


In fighting the coronavirus, what are Guam’s strengths and vulnerabilities?

Guam’s role as an Asian tourist hub is the biggest risk. The coronavirus was likely loose on the island before the threat was recognized.

Strong family connections are a hallmark of Guam. This includes frequent get togethers. This can put people at risk. But it is also a strength. Family networks both during the crisis and after will help residents.

Guam’s population density is a potential vulnerability. The military controls about one third of Guam’s 212 square miles. Much of the island’s population is in coastal areas. Large sections of the island’s interior are too rugged for development. (3)

Economic impact


One-in-four residents are either employed by the Guam government and federal government. Tax revenues will take a serious hit but federal help may buffer the impact.

But 75% of Guam’s employment is in the private sector. It’s unemployment rate was under 6%, pre-coronavirus. The island has seen high unemployment before. In 2012, unemployment was 14%, a consequence of the global downturn that began in 2008. (4)

Guam’s tourism accounts for about one third of the island’s employment. More than 1.5 million people visit the island each year. Tourism is now at or close to zero. (5)

Economic outlook


The relocation of 5,000 Marines and families from Okinawa to Guam, will help the economy. But this is a decade-long project. It won't bring immediate help, except in the construction industries. It’s also a divisive one. It increases the island’s militarization, something many on the island oppose. (6)

It’s impossible to know when tourism will resume and if hotels and stores can recover from lost business. If people are willing to travel to the Tokyo Olympics next year, that could be a positive sign.

The only certainty is the next 12 months, at least, it will be difficult on the island and everywhere else. 

Sources and notes:


(1) Connecticut's coronavirus portal. It's updating is similar to Guam's process. 

(2) Guam's data updates can be found on the Guam Homeland Security webpage.

(3) This Guam topographic map gives a good idea of where the population is located. 

(4) 2018 Guam Economic Report, Regional Center for Public Policy, School of Business and Public Administration, University of Guam

(5) The Economic Impact of Tourism on Guam, 2016, Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics Company. Posted on Guam Visitors Bureau. 

(6) There are many stories that look at the island's grassroots opposition to the military buildup. This 2010 piece of The Nation by Koohan Paik, Living at 'The Tip of the Spear' remains one of the best.

Disturbing news from the U.S. Navy: 36 sailors on the U.S. Theodore Roosevelt tested positive for the coronavirus March 27. The entire crew of 5,000, diverted to Guam, is now being tested.


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