Local COVID-19 cases rise, tribe extends shut down
FLATHEAD RESERVATION – Tribal council chairwoman Shelly Fyant said on July 6 the tribe fully intended to end its shelter-in-place order on July 13, but then, a number of cases of COVID-19 started ramping up.
On Monday morning the council was informed of three cases in the county. After lunch, two more were confirmed. By the end of the day, there were eight new cases in the area. CSKT’s Tribal Council was meeting close to the end of the workday and discussed how to move forward.
“We said, ‘we can’t reopen like this,’” Fyant said.
In a press release, the tribe announced that it would extend the shelter-in-place order indefinitely, and tribal employees would not be expected to return to work in person until the order is lifted.
Fyant said that despite the tribe’s stay-at-home order, the county has been inundated with people from out of the area visiting Flathead Lake, on their way to Glacier National Park and celebrating the Fourth of July in the area. The Lake County government has re-opened.
CSKT had prepared a re-opening plan with mask requirements, hand sanitizer, no-touch thermometers and visitor logs. Those measures will remain in place for when the tribal government does re-open, but it’s not clear when that will be. The reopening plan depends on the number of active COVID-19 cases.
The Unified Command Team, a collaboration effort between CSKT and Lake County, is completing contact tracing for all cases in the area. Last week saw the first case of community spread in the county. According to the Centers for Disease Control, community spread means a person who tested positive could not identify where they contracted the virus.
Fyant said all essential services of the tribal government are continuing to function. Other people are working from home, and some have developed methods to use their offices while implementing social distancing. Tribal employees can be reached with their tribal extension, which should forward to their cell phone. Tribal employees also have access to their email accounts.
Two Eagle River School, CSKT Head Start, and Nkwusm Salish Language School, all affiliated with the tribe, are developing plans for continuing education in the fall. Whether students are in school every day, part of the week or only virtually will depend on the status of the pandemic when the school year begins.
“There are huge challenges in front of us,” Fyant said. “It’s a wait and see, and I know it’s not going to be resolved by the beginning of the school year.”
Fyant encouraged people to wear masks, practice social distancing and stay home as much as possible. She said that while not everyone will die if they are infected with the virus, everyone should act for the benefit of those who are most vulnerable, like the young, elderly, and immunocompromised. Fyant said the tribal council is particularly concerned about keeping tribal elders safe from the virus. She said the elders are the tribes’ native language speakers and hold valuable cultural knowledge. “What we have at heart is their well-being,” she said.
Fyant said the tribe doesn’t have specific criteria that will cause them to re-open, instead, the group is following the recommendations from scientists and local health officials. “These are unprecedented times,” Fyant said. “There is no playbook.”