The Wind River Reservation has been under a strict stay-at-home order since April, requiring non-essential tribal offices and both tribes' casino operations to remain closed to the public. In a Monday morning online address, Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Lee Spoonhunter announced plans to begin re-opening.
"We must find a way to resume governmental services the safest way possible," Spoonhunter said. "We are working with the Eastern Shoshone Business Council to lift the stay-at-home order and curfew, and we are looking forward to safely getting our government back to full operations."
This comes just days after the Wind River Inter-Tribal Council, consisting of members of the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Business Councils, chose to keep the stay-at-home order in place. A member of the Eastern Shoshone Business Council was not available for an interview Monday, but said the councils have plans to meet and discuss the issue further.
Spoonhunter said Northern Arapaho tribal department heads and casino leadership have been finalizing re-opening plans in consultation with Dr. Paul Ebbert, chief medical officer at Wind River Family and Community Healthcare.
According to Ebbert, who has provided public health guidance for both tribes throughout the pandemic, measures like the stay-at-home order and the Northern Arapaho Tribe's investment in mass testing have paid off. He said the reservation reached its peak of new infections in late May.
"We have worked very hard, and most tribal members have worked very hard to minimize the disease. The rest of the state of Wyoming has seen a spike [in recent weeks] that we have not seen because people have mostly followed the rules," Ebbert said.
However, Ebbert cautioned that the virus is still active on Wind River, and that six tribal members are currently hospitalized with the illness. He said that social distancing, mask-wearing, and frequent hand-washing are still necessary.
Despite the tribe's aggressive strategy to prevent the spread of COVID-19, nine of Wyoming's 25 confirmed coronavirus-related deaths have been among Northern Arapaho people. Ebbert has attributed this to decades of poor healthcare access and chronic underfunding of Indian Health Service facilities on Wind River. He said this has led to higher rates of illnesses like diabetes and heart disease that make individuals more vulnerable to the worst complications of COVID-19.
In his address Monday, Spoonhunter said getting tribal and casino employees back to work would provide a morale boost for the community and allow the tribe to resume offering vital social services.
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