After four months under a strict stay-at-home order, residents of the Wind River Reservation will now be able to gather in small groups, enter tribal buildings, and return to work at non-essential jobs on the reservation. Tribal offices and businesses, including casinos, hotels and restaurants, will also be permitted to re-open.
The Wind River Inter Tribal Council, made up of members of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Business Councils, voted Tuesday to approve these revisions to the public health order. It also approved a new mandate requiring Wind River residents to wear masks in public places on the reservation.
Stephen Fast Horse of the Northern Arapaho Business Council said the decision to ease restrictions wasn't made lightly.
"It's a double-edged sword. We're facing very difficult circumstances on both sides," Fast Horse said. "The pandemic has put financial burden and strain on the whole nation. If [the tribes] had enough resources and capital, we probably wouldn't be making some of these decisions."
The Wind River Hotel and Casino and Shoshone Rose Casino have been closed since late March. Fast Horse said that loss of gaming revenue has been "very detrimental" to both tribes.
"We rely on those revenues to provide vital services to tribal membership," Fast Horse said, adding that, unlike state and local governments, the tribes do not have a tax base to fall back on.
COVID-19 is still actively spreading on the reservation. According to a provider at Wind River Family and Community Healthcare, the number of new weekly cases on Wind River has hovered around 20 in recent weeks.
The reservation has also lost a disproportionate number of residents to COVID-19. Ten Northern Arapaho tribal citizens and two additional members of the tribal community have passed away after contracting the virus. The state of Wyoming has reported 28 total confirmed coronavirus-related deaths. Tribal leaders attribute that disparity to decades of poor healthcare access on the Wind River Reservation and underfunding of the federal Indian Health Service.
Fast Horse said the revisions to the reservation's public health order should not be taken as a sign that the virus is no longer a threat.
"Our number one priority is still trying to protect the lives of everyone. We need to continue to be very aggressive in protecting each other and keeping each other safe," Fast Horse said.
Under the revised public health order, gatherings of up to ten people are permitted indoors, and up to 50 people are permitted outdoors, as long as attendees wear face coverings and implement social distancing measures.
In addition to businesses and tribal offices, tribal clinics will be allowed to open for routine, in-person care. The revisions do not extend to schools or daycare centers on the reservation, which will not be permitted to open until the order is lifted.
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