Health & Education

13 active COVID-19 cases prompted shut down of Tribal government

04.21.2021 Danielle Harrison Health & Wellness, Tribal government
Health Services Executive Director Kelly Rowe briefed the Tribal membership on the status of COVID-19 in Grand Ronde during the Wednesday, April 21, Facebook Live event. (Smoke Signals screenshot)


By Danielle Harrison

Smoke Signals staff writer

Thirteen active COVID-19 cases, likely brought on by spring break activities and Easter family gatherings, have closed the Tribal governmental campus for three weeks through at least Friday, May 7.

“There’s been an uptick in positive cases recently,” Health Services Executive Director Kelly Rowe said during a Wednesday, April 21, Facebook Live event. “We were at zero for a period of time. These cases have come after spring break and Easter. It becomes a game of telephone where it gets wider and wider. We are here to help treat you, but we absolutely support vaccination.”

 The Facebook Live event was the 17th held since the Tribal government shut down in March 2020 because of the pandemic. Approximately 120 people logged on to watch the event, which included Rowe, Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy and Spirit Mountain Casino General Manager Stan Dillon. Tribal Council Secretary Jon A. George and Tribal Council member Steve Bobb Sr. also attended.

The Tribe is not the only entity affected by increasing COVID-19 cases in the West Valley. The Willamina School District returned to a virtual learning platform after four students tested positive for the coronavirus and almost 100 students were exposed and asked to quarantine at home.

Rowe also told attendees that today was likely the last mass vaccination clinic to be held by the Tribe.

“We have 1,000 doses and a lot of capacity open,” she said. “People are getting it elsewhere or are not ready yet. We believe we can now reach enough people through our clinic.”

Rowe said that all Tribal members and those who live in their households, other Natives and their household members, as well as employees and their household members 18 and older can get scheduled for a vaccination by calling the clinic at 503-879-7032.

“I fully support and implore people to get this vaccine,” she said.

Rowe added that the Tribe has had one confirmed death of an enrolled member from COVID-19, but that person did not live in the community.

Kennedy said she wants to send a clear message about the importance of getting the COVID-19 vaccine if eligible to do so.

“I want to appeal to our community members who aren’t sure yet to take the vaccine,” she said. “Our bodies are not equipped to combat this disease and are not able to acclimate to it. It affects older people aggressively because there is no immunity to it built in. Now we know it also affects younger people so we need to deal with it in a very aggressive and thorough way. My goal is to make sure we are all OK and my message is to please vaccinate. We will be OK if we consider each other’s health.”

Since the pandemic began, the Health & Wellness Clinic has tested 2,148 people for COVID-19. Of those, 82 have been positive results, including the 13 current active cases.

The clinic also has vaccinated more than 17,000 people and 9,000 of the shots have been given to those 55 and older.

During the Facebook Live event, Dillon said that due to the combination of vaccinations and public health measures such as sanitizing, social distancing and mask wearing, there have been a very low number of positive COVID-19 cases despite thousands of people visiting the casino every day.

Dillon said there are thermal imaging cameras that automatically scan people’s temperatures throughout the casino, along with security cameras that track their movements. Employees are temperature checked before the start of every shift, just as they are at the Tribal government campus.

“Masks and vaccinations are a huge benefit,” Dillon said. “There has not been an outbreak at any casino table even though there is a dealer and customers together and they are all touching cards, due to mask wearing and using hand sanitizer.”

Kennedy closed the Facebook Live event by again imploring people to adhere to public safety measures and to get vaccinated.

“We want each of us to work together so we can come together and enjoy each other’s company again,” she said. “We do have the answer and it is the vaccine.”