Tribal Government & News

State's COVID 'freeze' will not affect Tribal operations

11.16.2020 Dean Rhodes Tribal government, Health & Wellness


By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s “freeze” to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the state that went into effect on Wednesday, Nov. 18, is not affecting Tribal governmental operations.

“We are aware of the governor’s latest ‘freeze’ to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in Oregon,” said Tribal Council Chief of Staff Stacia Hernandez in an all-employee e-mail on Monday, Nov. 16. “After careful consideration, the Tribe has made the decision to maintain its current operations for the Tribal government.”

However, Hernandez added, Tribal employees who feel it is in their best interest to work remotely can do so with approval of their supervisor.

Working remotely, if possible, is one of Brown’s “freeze” suggestions for Oregonians.

Brown also limited all bars and restaurants to takeout only, closed all gyms, restricted indoor and outdoor gatherings to no more than six people from two different households, limited capacity at grocery stores and pharmacies, and allowed churches and faith groups to accommodate indoor crowds of no larger than 25. The freeze is scheduled to last until at least Wednesday, Dec. 2, in most of the state and probably longer is more populated counties.

The “freeze” is in reaction to surging COVID-19 cases in the state that suddenly jumped to more than 1,000 for three consecutive days and have continued to grow over the Thanksgiving holiday week.

General Manager David Fullerton announced on Thursday, Nov. 5, that two Tribal governmental employees for the first time had tested positive for the coronavirus.

The two positive tests prompted Fullerton to limit campus access on Friday, Nov. 6, and Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 9-10, to only essential staff members. Other staff members were asked to work from home or granted administrative leave for the day.

Since Wednesday, Nov. 11, was Veterans Day and a Tribal holiday, the Tribal government resumed normal schedules and operations on Thursday, Nov. 12, with the exception that guests are no longer allowed on the Tribal campus.

The two positive cases within the Tribal government, which employs more than 500 people, are not the first coronavirus cases to affect the Tribe.

Spirit Mountain Casino, which employs more than 1,000 people, reported four of its behind-the-scenes employees had tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-October.

According to the Grand Ronde Health & Wellness Center, as of Monday, Nov. 30, it has conducted 1,179 COVID-19 tests with 1,124 negative results, 28 retests and 27 positive results.

The Tribe limited access to the Tribal campus to only a skeleton crew of essential employees in mid-March when the COVID-19 pandemic became a major public health concern in Oregon. After the Tribal government re-opened in mid-May, employees have had to undergo daily temperature checks, been asked to wear masks and encouraged to wash their hands frequently and keep socially distant.

“We have done a great job keeping the virus contained, but we all must do our part to protect ourselves, family and co-workers from this virus,” Hernandez said. “Wash and sanitize your hands, wear masks and social distance. We are closely monitoring the situation and we will continue to evaluate if any changes need to be made.”

The Tribal government was closed the entire week of Thanksgiving, Nov. 23-27. Tribal employees were already scheduled to have Monday, Nov. 23, off in celebration of Restoration and Thursday and Friday, Nov. 26-27, off in observance of Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, Spirit Mountain Casino announced a temporary suspension of smoking within the facility starting on Tuesday, Nov. 17. The smoking prohibition includes 20 feet from all entrances to the lodge, casino and lobbies.

The casino is still requiring that all guests wear face masks, which is a policy instituted in early July.

Since the Tribe is a sovereign nation, it does not have to follow state-mandated guidelines, a fact Brown acknowledged in March during the initial reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic.