Tribes Extend Wind River Stay-At-Home Order As Border Towns Re-Open

Jun 2, 2020

A drive-through COVID-19 testing sight at Wind River Family and Community Healthcare in Arapahoe.
Credit Savannah Maher

The Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Business Councils have extended a strict stay-at-home order and nightly 9 p.m. curfew on the Wind River Reservation, measures intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. Tribal members will continue to face tribal court fines and potential jail time for violations at least through the month of June.

After the tribes first issued the joint order on April 1, Eastern Shoshone Business Council Vice-Chairwoman Karen Snyder urged state and local officials to follow suit.

"I would love to see the state of Wyoming and Fremont County do those stay-at-home orders. It just makes us stronger," Snyder said in early April.

While Wyoming issued several statewide public health orders restricting business activity and public gatherings, it remained one of a handful of states that never put a stay-at-home order in place. Many of those restrictions have since been eased under updated orders, and the reservation's border communities have begun opening up their economies.

Northern Arapaho Business Councilman Stephen Fasthorse said that undermines the tribes' efforts.

"It makes it very challenging because when one of our tribal members has to venture into one of these towns to get the proper necessities to continue the shelter-in-place, we're being exposed to picking it up," Fast Horse said.

Still, he and other tribal leaders believe the stay-at-home order is the best way to prevent further spread of COVID-19 on Wind River.

"It's been burdensome economically. But when it came down to deciding [whether to extend the order] it was, is it going to be revenue or life?" Fast Horse said. "And of course for us, we're always going to choose life. We value every tribal member and every family on our reservation."

An aggressive testing program run by the Wind River Family and Community Healthcare (WRFCH), the Northern Arapaho Tribe's medical clinic, continues to identify new cases of COVID-19 among tribal members nearly every day.

Dr. Paul Ebbert, Chief Medical Officer of WRFCH, says around 40 percent of those cases are people who did not show symptoms, and would not have had access to COVID-19 testing elsewhere in Fremont County.

"We know where our cases are on the reservation because we've tested extensively. Elsewhere in the county, I don't think we know," Ebbert said. "To say [the county] should just open up when the testing capacity isn't there is, I think, faulty logic."

Both tribes' Business Councils said they will consider lifting the stay-at-home order when the reservation's medical and public health officials advise that it is safe to do so. They continue to offer support such as emergency quarantine housing and food assistance to tribal members impacted by the pandemic and the stay-at-home order.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Savannah Maher, at smaher4@uwyo.edu.