Indian Country has mobilized to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic and its associated illness, COVID-19.
Like tribes around North America,the Southern Ute Indian Tribe has declared a state of emergency, canceled or postponed large events and emphasized social distancing in response to the outbreak.
Southern Ute’s COVID-19 Incident Command Team designed its directives to protect people who are at a high risk of contracting COVID-19, according to a news release issued March 13. Such populations include older adults, people with chronic medical conditions, heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We all share those responsibilities equally, and ask your cooperation, support and assistance in making these protective measures successful,” the news release said.
Nearby tribal nations have also taken action. The Navajo Nation, the largest tribal reservation in the United States, spanning parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, reported three positive cases of COVID-19 Wednesday. The tribe had already declared a state of emergency, closed tribal parks and limited travel for employees. It has closed casinos until at least April 6.
The Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe, headquartered in Montezuma County, had no positive cases, The Journal reported Thursday. The tribe also declared a state of emergency. It closed its Head Start in Towaoc until March 30, issued a travel ban until April 3, and closed its casino, hotel and RV park through April 8.
Tribes are working at the federal level to receive aid funding. President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed into law a coronavirus relief package which allocates $64 million to the Indian Health Service, a federal health program that provides services to more than 2.5 million Native American and Alaska Native individuals.
The Southern Ute Indian Tribe did not say whether it will receive funding through the bill or if it has received other coronavirus-related federal or state funding.
But the tribe’s emergency declaration could provide for federal financial assistance and allow for coordination activities with local and state governments, according to a Wednesday news release.
The tribal government is not entirely shutting down: essential governmental services and business functions are still operating, said the news release.
The Southern Ute COVID-19 Incident Command Team ordered the postponement or cancellation of large events with more than 250 people inside the reservation boundaries, according to a March 13 news release.
Monday, the tribe made a call center available to tribal staff and members through the Southern Ute Health Center. Wednesday, the Sky Ute Casino closed its gaming floor. The hotel and one food venue will remain open.
“A COVID-19 outbreak could last for a long time,” said the March 13 news release. “Depending on the severity of the outbreak, public health officials have recommended community action designed to limit exposure to COVID-19.”
The tribe advised its community members to practice social distancing behaviors, like closing buildings, avoiding sporting events and concerts or shopping outside of peak hours.
The tribe also issued a travel ban that applies to all employee business travel under all business and governmental entities. Tribal employees returning from personal travel who have any reason to believe they have been exposed to COVID-19 or who have symptoms of respiratory illness must self-report to their immediate supervisor by telephone at the start of their next shift or sooner if possible.