Residents of American Samoa are stuck in the United States amid the Coronavirus

Courtesy of Crystal Veavea

Crystal Veavea (left) with her daughter Miracle, together before the pandemic.

When she boarded a plane from American Samoa on March 9, Crystal Vivia did not know that she was going to say goodbye to her family for months on end. The 38-year-old usually travels back and forth from her home in Pago Pago to Lake Elsinore, California, every two months to receive treatment for polycythemia vera, a form of leukemia. But this time, she was afraid to travel when he was Corona Virus It began to spread all over the world.

“I called my doctor and said, ‘Hey, can’t I attend? Can I skip one of my medical treatments?’ And he said no,” Veavea told BuzzFeed News.

So Vivia traveled to California to receive cancer treatment where she was told and was scheduled to return on April 9 – but in late March, the government in American Samoa closed the borders and suspended flights to and from the island. She was not able to go home.

“So now I’m stuck here,” said Vivia. “I don’t have a family here – just me.”

Even more than 217,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United StatesAmerican Samoa has not recorded any cases of the virus. Outlying Territory of the United States – a small island located in the Pacific Ocean, roughly equal to Hawaii and New Zealand – is The only part of the country It managed to stay completely free of COVID, largely due to the governor’s move in late March to completely close the island to the outside world to prevent the virus from arriving.

The decision kept its 55,000 residents away from the coronavirus – but left hundreds of them stranded in the United States, away from their homes, for months in a row without any indication of when they would be allowed to return. Many of these people went to the United States to receive medical treatment or to care for sick family members, unaware that choosing would mean miles away from their family and friends during one of the most turbulent times in living memory. Now, their finances are dwindling, their mental health is in crisis, and all they can do is long for the day they return home.

“It’s devastating, because I left my daughter behind,” said Vivia, who has not seen her family for seven months. “Having to undergo cancer treatment, it’s a fight on its own.”

Veavea now resides in the home she owns in California, and while she is grateful to have a place to live, the financial hardships of her inability to work to support herself and her family are weighing on her. Even worse, she feels incredibly lonely and her mental health has deteriorated.

But FaceTiming her 15-year-old miracle daughter is hard to bear. She prefers that Miracle, who is now a curator of Veavea’s sister, message her on Facebook so that she doesn’t have to endure the same amount of pain.

”[My daughter] He always tells me, Mom, I really miss you. Mom, I wish you were here. Mom, I have been recruited [National Honor Society]. You miss all of my special moments, “ Vivia said. “I promised her that I would be there, when I was diagnosed two years ago. I promised her that I would fight. I would make sure that I would be there at every event of her.”

David Brisco / AP

A ship in the port of Pago Pago, American Samoa, 2002.

Vivia is one of more than 500 stranded American Samoans who face a brutal mix of issues, according to Ellen Terrell, a spokeswoman for the Tagata Tutu Fatassi Alliance in American Samoa, a grassroots organization for these individuals and their families pushing for their return.

Many American Samoans are in financial hardship and some are homeless because they cannot cover their expenses, but they have not received any help from any government. Almost all of them feel very lonely and miss their families.

“Some mothers are scarred because their young children don’t recognize them, even through Zoom or Facebook chat,” Terrell told BuzzFeed News. “Some said that their children also cried for them at night and could not sleep.”

Terrell lives in Tacoma, Washington, but her mother, Maria Malai Liato, who lives in Awa, American Samoa, is one of many people stuck away from home since she came to stay with her daughter for a medical operation.

Courtesy of Eileen Terrell

Eileen Terrell (left) with her mother, Maria Malai Liato.

In September, American Samoa Governor Lulu Matalasi Moliga extended the suspension of flights to and from the island until at least the end of October, according to Samoa News. He has He previously said His priority is “to protect the lives of all the inhabitants of American Samoa despite the pressures of our stranded residents as they demand to return home.”

“We are certainly not oblivious to our residents’ earnest pleas and eagerness to return home, but from our point of view, they are in a better place to seek advanced medical assistance and healthcare if something inevitable happens to any of them,” Moliga said.

Iulogologo Joseph Pereira, head of the province’s coronavirus task force, echoed the sentiments this week, saying: News agency The people were not repatriated because “the interests of the 60,000 residents on the island and the protection of their lives outweigh the interest of 600 or more stranded residents of the United States.”

“As the governor has consistently indicated, there are more health care facilities available in Hawaii and the mainland states that they can access them if they contract the virus,” Pereira said.

But access to healthcare facilities in the event of COVID-19 infection comes at a price.

Some residents of American Samoa have had to deal with immigration issues. Terrell’s mother, a Fijian citizen who has lived in American Samoa for decades, had to pay $ 450 to extend her visa to stay in the United States when she realized she had no other way to avoid overstepping it.

Terrell said the mental health effects are perhaps the most pressing, whether for those stuck in the United States or loved ones back home. Feelings of isolation and despair are common, and she worries about this as the holiday season approaches.

“Can you imagine the holidays coming when we are stuck in limbo and the devastation that will happen?” She said. “It’s unfathomable, it’s tragic, and it’s cruel.”

One of the most frustrating things, Terrell said, was the mystery over whether there was any plan to bring people home. She and the other group members tried to write a file Seam And contact government officials, and offer ideas on how to safely return, but so far nothing has made a difference as far as they can say.

Terrell’s group isn’t calling for the borders of American Samoa to be fully reopened – they also want to keep the island safe from COVID-19. But they want a plan to bring them home. They have brainstorming solutions, which they have detailed Samoa News, Like the staggering domestic flights and mandatory quarantines.

Such plans are not out of the ordinary when it comes to governments returning their citizens during a pandemic. in a Australia, Citizens coming from abroad are required to quarantine a hotel for 14 days on their own dime. Quarantine Imposed by the armyPeople cannot leave their rooms. Until October 15, people go to Hawaii A 14-day quarantine has also been required, but now a negative COVID-19 test will allow travelers to skip quarantine altogether.

“We are not fighting against the government,” Terrell said. “The governor continues to say, ‘We are protecting the 50,000 on the island. “He continues to rate a life of 50,000 against 500 or 600. But we are not against them.”

“We feel a sense of abandonment, as if we do not count,” she added.

Choose Sagapolutele / AP

A security officer checks the temperature of a hospital employee entering a medical facility in Fajalo Village, American Samoa, October 2, 2020.

Vivia, a mother who is being treated for cancer, shares the feeling her government has abandoned her. She does everything she can to take care of herself so she can go home for her daughter, including seeing a therapist. She now has two emotional support dogs to keep her company – two huskies, named Tokyo and Bogota. “They were dogs when I got them, and now they are six months old,” she said.

Veavea doesn’t know when, but one day, she’ll eventually board a plane and head back to American Samoa. She’ll eat her favorite local food, taro and salmon orka, a plate of raw fish soaked in lemon and coconut milk. She tries to prepare the meal in California, but the fish doesn’t taste fresh. She said, “I know the difference.”

But she really only wants to hug the people she misses the most.

“All I want is to see my daughter and my family,” she said. “Just for them to hug me, to do the same. That’s all I need.”

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