Citizens say crisis team vague on details

Bree Long

Local residents are voicing concerns and frustration over what they say is a lack of COVID-19 information that was promised by officials.

According to Mayor Sue Catron's Executive Order approved by the Tahlequah City Council on April 27, the crisis task force team would provide weekly status updates on the coronavirus to the public through social media, the website, and the local newspaper. But on the city of Tahlequah website, the most recent numbers were posted May 20, and before that, May 8.

Northeastern Health System reportedly ran 1,400 tests with 28 pending results.

There are 38 positive tests results, 1,334 negative results, and no inpatients.

Ward 1 Councilor Bree Long has said the intent of the task force was to share information and use input to make informed decisions. However, Beth Melles, administrator for the Connecting Tahlequah during COVID-19 Facebook page, said she couldn't find the data. She said she would like to see the transparency that was promised.

The Daily Press asked Long for additional information, as far as the available PPE and what the hospital's capacity is.

"With Cherokee Nation, all of their stuff needs to go through communications to flow out, and so anything you want as far as hospital capacity and PPE, that would have to come from Cherokee Nation Communications," said Long. "I know just from talking with them - I know a lot of that is posted on their website."

Long said she assumed that since information from W.W. Hastings Hospital would have to go through CN Communications, that meant information from Northeastern Health System would need to go through the same process.

"I assume - and I haven't talked to [NHS CEO] Brian Woodliff - but I assume they also have the same process, as far as which information and how they share it, and the format that they share that in," said Long. "That would probably not be something [on which] I would want to speak on their behalf."

The crisis response team was formed as the pandemic began to surface Cherokee County. Members include Catron, Tahlequah City Council members, Cherokee County Emergency Management Director Mike Underwood, Tahlequah Police Chief Nate King, Tahlequah Fire Chief Ray Hammons, Cherokee County Sheriff Jason Chennault, the three members of the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners, Interim City Administrator Alan Chapman, Tahlequah Public Works Authority General Manager Mike Doublehead, Northeastern Health System CEO Brian Woodliff and Cherokee Nation W.W. Hastings CEO Brian Hail.

After questions arose about possible Open Meeting Act violations, District Attorney Jack Thorp issued an opinion that only one of the county commissioners could attend a crisis team member at any one time. He deferred to City Attorney Lloyd Grant on the city's position. Grant declined comment, but Catron said she was only allowing Long to attend those meetings to comply with the law.

According to its website, Cherokee Nation Health Services can administer two types of COVID-19 testing. Reference lab tests take 24 hours or more for results, and Rapid tests can show results in about 22 minutes. CN said Rapid tests are used on the most critically ill patients because of the limited supply of testing materials. The number of tests and supplies changes often. Cherokee Nation staff said they are working on various supply-chain opportunities for those test kit items.

As of May 20, the CNHS reported 76 confirmed cases of COVID-19. There are 2,500 test runs, with 28 pending results. CN has reported 2,124 negative results and no inpatients as of Wednesday. However, those numbers do not indicate where the individuals live, or whether they are even Cherokee citizens; they could be members of other Native tribes.

Cherokee Nation will begin a phased reopening of government offices and businesses on June 1.

While positive cases have slowed locally in time being for the economy to reopen, criminals have taken advantage of the circumstances and have kept authorities busy.

According to the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office, deputies responded to 27 vandalisms, 17 stolen vehicles, 12 burglaries, and 32 assaults between March 1 and May 15.

Sheriff Jason Chennault said there hasn't necessarily been an increase in calls, but a variant in the type of calls they receive.

"We've had some weird ones," said Chennault. "The other day, the guys took a call where a woman was holding a BB gun rifle to a guy. I mean, it's just random stuff that's out of the ordinary, and a lot of it is because people are getting tired of one another since this whole thing started."

Tahlequah Police Department Assistant Chief Steve Garner said calls for domestic incidents and driving under the influence have increased somewhat from the same time last year.

"It's not enough that we said, 'Oh, wow, this is crazy,' but it was about average, honestly," said Garner. "There were a few more, but for people being cooped up the way they have been, I'm surprised we didn't respond to more."

Garner said there were 94 domestic issues between March 1 and May 15 last year, and 110 during that same timeframe this year. There were six DUI incidents in 2019 and 16 between March 1 and May 15.

Recommended for you