Southern Ute tribal members could see some coronavirus-related restrictions lifted – as long as outbreak data clearly shows it is safe.
The Southern Ute Indian Tribe has maintained its stay-at-home order for weeks after the surrounding area began to lift restrictions. However, the tribal government announced this week it has drafted reopening plans in response to the emotional and economic toll of the pandemic. The government does not have an implementation schedule, citing concerns about case number increases over recent weeks. The tribe’s stay-at-home order remains in effect.
“While we continue to take the utmost caution, it is important that we prepare for the ‘new normal,’ beginning with plans to reopen when the health risks to the tribal membership and staff are drastically reduced,” the tribe announced in a news release Tuesday.
The tribe’s Incident Management Team has developed plans to implement a phased return to work for tribal employees. The team has monitored local to national demands to relax social-distancing restrictions, closures and modifications to work practices.
“We understand the pressure is rooted in concern over the emotional and economic toll caused by the pandemic,” the release said. “Individuals may have experienced frustration and even grief about the loss of opportunity to enjoy the ‘normal’ activities of life.”
The team will finalize the plan before it recommends relaxing any orders or work modifications. There is no guaranteed timeline for reopening, particularly because of a “disturbing trend” of increasing case numbers over the last two weeks, the release said.
All Four Corners states are considered to be hot spots by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Cases in Arizona have increased the most, by 145%, over the past two weeks. Case numbers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah increased by 57% to 62% as of Tuesday.
Cases in La Plata County increased from 90 to 119, over eight days from June 22 to Tuesday. That is a faster rate of increase than the county has seen in past weeks, according to San Juan Basin Public Health data.
“The Tribe is quite fortunate to have avoided the virus and its effects, both known and unknown, unlike individuals who reside in San Juan County, N.M., or on the Navajo Nation,” the news release said. “A few hastily made decisions could potentially have a devastating impact to the Tribe in a matter of days, or weeks.”
The tribe’s Incident Management Team said the new cases appear to be correlated with reopening too early, and failing to maintain safe hygiene practices and expectations for social distancing and appropriate face mask use.
“When the data clearly shows that we can relax the ‘Stay at Home’ Order and implement an approved return to work program safely, we will clearly communicate any reopening plan and then execute said plan with prowess,” the news release said.
During the Fourth of July weekend, the Incident Management Team advises tribal members to wear face masks in public, wash or sanitize hands frequently, avoid group activities, stay at home when possible and maintain social distance.
“Please remember we all play a part in the overall safety of others,” the release said.