Tribal Government & News

Increasing West Valley COVID cases affecting Tribal government, Willamina School District

09.17.2021 Dean Rhodes Tribal government, Health & Wellness, Education


By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

Due to a continuing increase of COVID-19 cases in the West Valley and among its workforce, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde government will continue its re-opening pause that started in early August through at least Friday, Sept. 24.

According to the Tribal government website, there were 51 active cases of COVID-19 being monitored by the Health & Wellness Center as of Tuesday, Sept. 14, and 18 new cases detected.

In addition, the Willamina School District has 25 students who have tested positive for COVID-19 and 57 students who are in quarantine because of exposure.

“I believe the increase in positive COVID-19 infections in the West Valley is mostly attributed to the increased contagion of the Delta variant,” Health Services Executive Director Kelly Rowe said.

The government-opening pause started on Tuesday, Aug. 3, closing the governmental campus to everyone but essential employees due to an increase in COVID-19 cases. It was the first COVID-related closure in almost three months.

“We all want to put this behind us, but the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over,” General Manager David Fullerton said. “Practice social distancing, wash your hands and wear a mask. Let’s work together to get past this.”

Employees are encouraged to work from home if possible. Staff not able to work remotely have been given administrative leave. Beginning Sept. 7, Central Phones staff returned to the campus to assist callers who need to reach specific employees working from home. The campus remains closed to visitors and guests, and essential employees who report to work are required to wear masks.

The increase in COVID-19 cases in the West Valley, the state and nationwide has been attributed to the Delta variant, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said is far more contagious than the original strain, and that some vaccinated people can contract Delta in a breakthrough infection and may be contagious.

However, vaccinated individuals still represent a very small amount of transmissions, and an overwhelming majority of hospitalizations and deaths continue to be among the unvaccinated.

Willamina School District Superintendent Carrie Zimbrick said that none of the district’s cases are linked to in-school transmission. All Willamina district staff must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 as mandated by Gov. Kate Brown.

“I had an Oregon Department of Education meeting on Tuesday and the state epidemiologist shared some staggering information,” Zimbrick said. “Something I was alarmed to see is positive Delta pediatric cases among our American Indian children are disproportionate at a rate of 4 to 1 compared to their white peers.”

According to health experts, the best way to avoid the worst of the pandemic is to get vaccinated. All Tribal members and those who live in their households, other Native Americans and their household members, and Tribal employees and their household members 12 and older can schedule a vaccination through the Health & Wellness Center by calling 503-879-1900.