With the number of confirmed novel coronavirus cases expected to climb, Oklahoma’s tribes are bracing for impact and canceling multiple events in the process.
On Friday, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation formally declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19. Oklahoma’s first two confirmed cases were in Tulsa County, which is partially within the tribe’s jurisdictional area.
Under the terms of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s declaration, all employee work travel is halted indefinitely, as are large gatherings hosted by the tribe’s chartered community groups. The tribe’s health department has set up a COVID-19 hotline, 918-758-3550, to address questions and concerns during regular business hours.
“We are treating this as a serious situation,” Principal Chief David Hill said. “For several weeks now the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s Department of Health has worked diligently to develop and implement emergency rules and procedures to protect our citizens and our communities. Because of the public health threat posed by COVID-19, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation is issuing a state of emergency. Through this declaration, we are taking necessary steps toward protecting our citizens.”
Meanwhile, Cherokee Nation’s Tribal Council has suspended all of its events for the month of March, including council meetings, committee hearings and community meetings in Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. The tribe’s cultural tourism arm has also canceled its Spring Break programming at museums across the Cherokee Nation’s jurisdictional area.
The Chickasaw Nation has also canceled its out of state community meetings and Spring Break programming, as well as stickball practices and most classes through mid-April.
The Osage Nation has closed its museums indefinitely. Osage News, the tribe’s independent newspaper, has canceled its candidates’ debate scheduled for April 4 at Osage Casino Tulsa and is looking into web-based alternatives for the event to minimize the risk of exposing elders to COVID-19. Its Sovereignty Day dance, scheduled for Saturday, has also been canceled.
The Otoe-Missouria Tribe has also canceled its spring youth encampment benefit dance, scheduled for March 21, plus its credit union’s annual meeting for elders.
The United Indian Tribes of Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas also canceled its quarterly meeting, scheduled for March 19 in Wyandotte, Oklahoma.
When reached via email, a spokesman for Indian Health Services could not provide data on deadline for the number of COVID-19 tests conducted in the Oklahoma City Service Area. Instead, the following statement was provided:
"The Oklahoma City Area Indian Health Service is following CDC guidelines and coordinating with state officials who are monitoring the situation for Oklahoma. The IHS continues to follow our normal policies and procedures for evaluation and treatment of respiratory illnesses. If a patient comes under evaluation for COVID-19, IHS is coordinating with local, state, and/or tribal public health departments immediately.
"All IHS facilities are capable of testing patients for COVID-19. There is no cost to patients for this testing. Following guidance established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, clinicians, including those at the IHS, collect samples with standard specimen collections swabs and access laboratory testing through public health laboratories in their jurisdictions.
CDC guidance says clinicians should use their judgment to determine if a patient has signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19 and whether the patient should be tested. Decisions on which patients receive testing should be based on the local epidemiology of COVID-19, patient risk or exposures, as well as the clinical course of illness. Clinicians are strongly encouraged to test for other causes of respiratory illness, including infections such as influenza."