After getting an initial COVID-19 outbreak under control, tribal leaders on the Wind River Reservation are reporting a renewed wave of community spread. During a virtual address this week, Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Lee Spoonhunter called on community members not to allow "coronavirus fatigue" to influence their behavior.
"We all know that we're tired of staying home, we're tired of wearing masks, we're tired of social distancing. But more than ever, we need your help." Spoonhunter said, urging tribal members to avoid gathering in large groups and to wear masks in public places.
Clinical director Brian Oland of Wind River Family and Community Healthcare (Wind River Cares), the medical clinic operated by the Northern Arapaho Tribe, reported that the reservation has surpassed 600 confirmed COVID-19 cases since March, and that there are currently around 50 active cases on the reservation.
In late spring and early summer, the reservation emerged as a COVID-19 hotspot in Wyoming. Tribal leaders say the high number of reported cases was in part due to a mass-testing campaign at Wind River Cares, which was among the first clinics in the state to offer testing regardless of whether a patient was symptomatic or at high-risk. Factors including overcrowding in many tribal homes also allowed the virus to move quickly through the community.
By late summer, after the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes implemented a strict, months-long stay-at-home order and a mask mandate on the reservation, tribal leaders reported that community spread had slowed significantly. This recent spike comes as cases continue to surge throughout Wyoming. Spoonhunter said it is being driven by teenagers and young adults.
"We've seen an increase in bonfires by youth, parties by youth that are [posted] on Snapchat, on social media," Spoonhunter said. "We need you to please stay home. Please remember your parents and your grandparents that you go home to after you're at these youth gatherings."
Oland added that gatherings like birthday parties and funerals are contributing to community spread. Richard Brannan, CEO of Wind River Cares, reminded young people that their actions can be deadly to older family members.
"This has been a difficult time. We have lost 14 tribal members. And a lot of our elders, we lost them because their younger family members were out partying," Brannan said. "If you love your grandma, if you love your grandpa, if you love your children, if you love your grandchildren and great-grandchildren, wear a mask."
No new COVID-19 related restrictions were announced at this week's address, but tribal members were reminded that the current public health orders on the reservation prohibit large indoor gatherings and require masks to be worn in public places.