In case you haven’t heard, there is a major conjunctivitis outbreak on the island of Tutu’ila right now. Even the Huffington Post is reporting on it! As of Friday afternoon, the Department of Education was reporting that over 2,300 public school students and 100 teachers were missing school because of the infection. Public schools (and some private schools as well) have been closed until next week Wednesday. Because there had not been any reported cases on our island as of Friday, the closure of public schools does not apply to us.
We’ve heard that some attempts were made to quarantine the island (Tutu’ila); passengers attempting to fly to Hawaii were screened for pink eye and turned away if they showed signs of the infection. One of my students was held back in Tutu’ila for a week until he could provide a doctor’s note clearing him to fly to Manu’a. However, I have it on good authority that at least one woman made it to Ta’u last week despite showing signs of the infection.
This outbreak is just another part of island living, really: we’re all in such close quarters with such limited resources that a highly-contagious condition like conjunctivitis is unstoppable. Then too, it is further evidence of the pervasive incompetence that is so rampant in government agencies here. Two weeks ago, when neighboring Samoa first reported on their own conjunctivitis outbreak, no steps were taken to protect the island of Tutu’ila, despite the regular flow of travel and trade between the two nations. In fact, the Department of Health warned residents of American Samoa not to worry over reports of pink eye in the Samoan newspapers, and emphatically denied that any cases of pink eye had been reported in American Samoa. A friend of mine who contracted pink eye from her students (around the time of the DoH statement) received both medication and a doctor’s note to stay home because the one-and-only hospital in the country did not know if the infection was bacterial or viral. And just for the record, none of the schools I’ve been to in American Samoa provide hand sanitize or any kind of soap in the restrooms; it is pretty difficult to be diligent about good hygiene without soap. (This is where we all “tsk tsk tsk” and shake our heads.)
Manu’a High School will have class on Monday. There are rumors that there are now three cases of pink eye on our island. If this is true, Monday will be a BIG DAY for the spreading of pink eye here at MHS. (Ewww.) Every time I think about it, my poor eyes start to burn. And I am completely out of hand-sanitizer. If you know of any soothing remedies that I can share with my neighbors and students, please let me know. (Especially anything that doesn’t involve any kind of milk–neither cow, nor goat, nor human.) And pray for us?