Covid-19: The New Social, Economic, and Legal Landscape
The novel coronavirus pandemic has caused turmoil and change to virtually every country in the world in an extremely short period of time
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted Guam, the U.S. and the world to an extent never before seen in our generation. According to news reports, the first possible appearance of the virus in Asia has been traced back to as early as November 2019 in Hubei province, China. Since then, the virus has infected over 4 million people worldwide in a span of less than 6 months. According to the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, there were approximately 4,020,878 cases in the world with 279,007 reported deaths, as of May 9, 2020. In the U.S. alone, there were 1.3 million cases, with 78,746 deaths as of that date. Guam had relatively low numbers with 151 cases, and 5 deaths. The worldwide numbers continue to increase by the day, if not by the hour, and will continue to do so until, presumably, an effective vaccine is developed.
"The coronavirus pandemic has impacted Guam, the U.S. and the world to an extent never before seen in our generation."
The virus has not only impacted the health, lives, and well-being of millions of people, it has adversely impacted the economies of virtually every country in the world. Devastating effects have been felt in a relatively short period of time. For example, the unemployment rate in the U.S. reached 14.7% as of May 9, 2020 - the highest unemployment rate in the country since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Millions of employees in the U.S. private sector have already been laid off or furloughed. Many businesses have closed their doors or reduced their business hours in response to government shutdown orders, some closing down permanently.
To contain the spread of the virus, the governments of many states and territories, including Guam, have issued strict stay-at-home orders which have limited travel, imposed social distancing, and mandated the closure of many government agencies and services, courts, and private businesses. Guam has even imposed a controversial and sweeping mandatory travel quarantine, as of March 31, 2020, that requires all travelers – including returning Guam residents – to forcibly quarantine for a period of 14-days at a government-designated quarantine site, unless they present proof of having tested negative for Covid-19 within the 72 hours (three days) prior to arrival – something which remains difficult if not impossible for many returning residents to produce particularly when Covid-19 testing, let alone rapid testing, is still largely inaccessible to those without symptoms in many areas.
One solution to this problem is for Guam to offer on-site Covid-19 testing at the airport. These types of tests are now being offered in other places, such as Austria, where arriving passengers can be tested at the airport and get results in two to three hours. If the results are negative, the cleared travelers do not have to forcibly quarantine, thus saving them and the government of Guam potentially thousands of dollars in quarantine costs during the 14-day period. This approach would also make it easier for more and more residents, tourists, and other visitors to travel to Guam safely, and would help Guam's economy recover more quickly from the devastation it has experienced over the past several weeks.
The quarantine restrictions and stay-at-home orders in force in Guam and other states and territories will continue to spark controversy and be challenged over time, but will nonetheless likely remain in place to some extent throughout the coming weeks, and possibly into the summer months.
"With the advent of these new and unique laws relating to the Covid-19 impact, courts will be asked to hear more and more lawsuits seeking to resolve disputes and other matters arising from the pandemic."
In response to the pandemic, a number of sweeping federal laws have been passed by the U.S. government. Laws such as The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act have been enacted to provide trillions of dollars in financial assistance and relief to individuals, businesses, health care institutions, and local governments, as well as to provide employment leave and other protections for workers. Undoubtedly, more laws will be passed in the near future to address the harm that the virus has caused and will continue to cause for at least the next year or two, as most experts predict. With the advent of these new and unique laws relating to the Covid-19 impact, courts will be asked to hear more and more lawsuits seeking to resolve disputes and other matters arising from the pandemic. Guam and other jurisdictions have already seen court challenges to travel restrictions, quarantines, and road closures.
This is a constantly evolving and developing matter. The public will benefit from keeping periodically informed and updated about new information and resources.
The U.S. government maintains an informational website with links to other sites, information, and resources related to Covid-19.
The Office of Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero and Lt. Gov. Joshua Tenorio maintains a general website that includes Covid-19-related information and a collection of the Governor’s Executive Orders.
The Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services (DPHSS) maintains a website that contains updated information and resources concerning the local Covid-19 response, including the Governor’s Executive Orders, DPHSS Memoranda, and Joint Information Center (JIC) releases.