Tribe steps up protocols to battle COVID spike

The Cherokee Nation reopened its tourism sites, including the Cherokee National History Museum, Wednesday, requiring guests to wear masks, socially distance, and have their temperature checked.

The Cherokee Nation has reported a surge in COVID-19 cases over the past month, with a 200 percent increase in positive cases from 219 on June 27 to 684 on July 27.

As of Thursday, Aug. 6, that number had risen to 905.

According to tribal officials, the top places CN citizens have come into contact with COVID-19 are in-person, faith-based activities; family gatherings; restaurants and bars; student activities and sporting events; carpooling; and workplace settings. A statewide trend shows younger residents - ages 18-35 and 5-17 - testing positive for the virus.

"Through contact tracing we are finding that young people are more prone to socially interact with others or may be more involved in social activities, and we just want to caution this age group to wear masks and social distance, and be mindful to help protect our elders from this virus," said Dr. R. Stephen Jones, executive director of Cherokee Nation Health Services.

The tribe was one of the first in the state to close down operations at its W.W. Keeler Complex and Cherokee Casinos. Since CN locations have reopened, the tribe has been limiting the number of people it allows onto its properties, and Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. signed an executive order requiring everyone to wear masks on tribal properties.

Throughout the pandemic, officials have given much consideration to the available space in hospitals to treat those with the coronavirus. Officials feared the medical facilities could be overrun in the 14-county area if the curve of positive cases was not flattened. While CNHS medical professionals are confident they have the ability to treat victims of this recent surge, Jones said the outbreak is not over yet.

"Yes, we have done everything possible to prepare, and we are thankful for the opportunities for assistance through our partnerships," said Jones. "At this time, we are confident that our health system can care for the increased number of patients with COVID-19. We do want to stress that this pandemic is not over, and it will take everyone working together to protect one another and our communities. We can accomplish this by continuing to do what we know works: wearing masks, social distancing and washing our hands frequently. These are small things that have a huge impact."

The rise in cases didn't stop the tribe from reopening its tourism sites on Wednesday, Aug. 5. Cherokee Nation has implemented rigorous screening procedures, though, and visitors will be asked to have their temperature checked, wear masks, and social distance. While most of the museums are open, the Cherokee Heritage Center has not announced a date when it will reopen.

Learn more

An update on COVID-19 cases in the Cherokee Nation can be found at cherokee.org, where the tribe posts new numbers each day.

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