A week of hell (or business as usual?)

A patron wearing a mask, plays a slot machine at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Friday, March 20, 2020, in Hollywood, Fla. The Seminole Tribe closed its casinos, the latest virus-related closures affecting a state that is heavily dependent on tourism and consumer spending to pay its bills. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye

People are not taking COVID-19 serious, said Dean Seneca. Unfortunate if it takes mass casualties to ‘open people's eyes’

The Seminole Tribe of Florida is closing its six casinos statewide Friday night. The casinos generate billions annually and employ 14,000 people.

The tribe said in a statement that it no longer felt operating the casinos was safe.

At the tribe's Hard Rock Casino near Fort Lauderdale on Friday afternoon, vacationers, gamblers and bored locals enjoyed the last few hours of play, but the noisy clangs from the machines were muted. Nearly half the machines were disabled to force players, some wearing gloves, to use machines feet apart.

Dr. Brian Cheung, a 34-year-old Miami anesthesiologist, had planned a trip to Nashville this week, but when it got canceled he came to stay at the Hard Rock's hotel and gamble in the casino. The hotel will remain open for now.

“Hopefully the pool is still open,” Cheung said, walking down an empty hallway of shuttered restaurants.

The Navajo Nation Council Friday voted to appropriate $4 million for the Navajo Nation’s response to the pandemic.

“The $4 million appropriation will help our first responders, health care experts, and emergency officials to protect our communities, while we continue to seek assistance from federal and state agencies and others. The federal government is not expediting the release of funds that have already been approved by Congress, so our Navajo government is stepping up to help the people most in need of resources and assistance,” President Nez said.

He continued to call on Navajo residents to stay home and avoid person to person contact,

“When we isolate ourselves, we isolate the virus. In other parts of the world, we’re starting to see that self-isolation is slowing the spread of COVID-19. Our people have to stay home and let the health care and emergency experts do their jobs,” Nez added.

The Navajo Nation Council’s action follows a Monday vote where it turned down a $3 million appropriation.

Then, across the country there is still a wide range of reaction to the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly a quarter of the people in the U.S., including New York and California, are under orders to remain home unless they work in an essential industry. Yet significant portions of the country are barely raising the alarm.

One individual who works at a pharmacy bordering the Navajo Nation, which has 14 cases, said people who come into the pharmacy for medication often dismiss the idea of self-quarantines. to protect.

Why don’t people believe? Why the business as usual?

Consider this math: California has a model that projects 25 million of its citizens will be infected by the virus over the next 8 weeks. That works out to 62.5 percent of the population. So if California is a bellwether -- as it often is -- that means that out of 3 million people some 1.8 million people in Indian Country will have the virus.

We know that most people who are infected will recover; the World Health Organization and the CDC say mild cases account for 75-to-80 percent of the total. This is harsh, but that model means that about 500,000 people in Indian Country will be seriously ill or could die.

Europe’s numbers are already stark; the death toll now tops 5,000. Friday Italy reported 627 deaths in a single day, exceeding 4,032 deaths since the pandemic started.

“It's unfortunate that people are not taking this serious. Maybe it would be mass casualties that would really open people's eyes,” Dean Seneca, executive director of Seneca Scientific Solutions. He worked for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s Office for State, Tribal, Local, and Territorial Support for more than 18 years.

Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong, Sr. announced March 19 that a non-Seneca employee of the nation’s health system tested positive for COVID-19. The individual doesn’t live on the Seneca Nation territories. “This individual last reported to work on March 12th and was not showing any symptoms,” Armstrong said. But the individual felt ill that evening and immediately self-quarantined. The tribal nation’s health facilities are closed for deep cleaning and will reopen March 23. Armstrong initiated a state of emergency for Seneca Nation territories.

Indian Country Today found 21 cases that have been reported within the Indian health system. However the Indian Health Service said in an email that it’s official numbers are lower, "As of March 20, 2020, there have been 16 presumed positive cases reported across the IHS, tribal, and urban Indian health system." IHS didn’t immediately respond to how the data is broken down. Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma saw the first COVID-19 related death on March 18. A 55-year-old died after catching a cold and then got the coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease.

“We're gonna see more,” Seneca said. This is why he warned Indian Country three weeks ago when he got word that an infected person can show no signs or symptoms of having the coronavirus.

Seneca knew the U.S. was going to face COVID-19 when China had more than 20,000 cases.

“I just figured it was a matter of time,” he said.

Since then Italy, a country with a smaller population than China, has had more deaths than China. China has more than 1.4 billion people while Italy has more than 60 million.

“That's major,” he said. “It's very concerning.”

(Related: Indian Country's COVID-19 syllabus)

He’s also concerned about young people between 21 and 50 getting sick and hospitalized now. The CDC reported that young people are not immuned.

It’s very alarming to many experts that young people aren’t staying home.

Navajo Times reporter Arylssa Becenti tweeted that a revival, a Christian religious service, was taking place in Shiprock.

“Who is having a revival at a time like this in Shiprock?! Are you kidding me? Also, who is actually attending it?” she wrote. “I always raise an eyebrow at revivals, but say nothing. Right now I feel I have every right to say something. Shut it down! We are in the middle of a pandemic!”

When she went to the grocery store in Window Rock, Arizona, where people didn’t maintain their distance from one another.

“So much for self quarantine, isolation or social distancing. Had to go to Bashas for the first time in days,” she wrote. “There was a lot of people there, some standing pretty close to one another, and in no hurry to leave. People let’s get serious about this! Now time for me to wash my hand.”

Many people in Native communities aren’t staying home, continue to shake hands, or deny that there is even a pandemic. Seneca says Native people mistrust of the federal government, so finding the right messenger is important.

“Whoever needs to be the messenger, because the messenger matters in our communities, needs to either be that trusted source or that person that everybody believes in,” Seneca said. “Those folks really need to get out and start preaching the word that COVID-19 is a serious threat.”

Four governors from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania took staying home and social distancing to the next level by closing barber shops, hair salons, tattoo and piercing parlors, nail salons, hair removal services, and personal care related services to the public starting March 21 at 8 p.m. Eastern Time.

Parts of the shopping malls, amusement parks, and bowling alleys were ordered to close yesterday evening.

"We know how the novel coronavirus spreads, and we are making data-driven decisions as the situation evolves to continue to reduce density and slow the spread of the virus," Governor Cuomo said in the news release. "We remain in constant communication with our neighboring states to ensure we are establishing a set of uniform rules and regulations for the entire region. These temporary closures are not going to be easy, but they are necessary to protecting the health and safety of New Yorkers and all Americans."

Illinois, Nevada, and California joined in and shut down most businesses. Essential businesses staying open are pharmacies, grocery stores and take-out restaurants.

Staying home is a new thing for Californian’s coming to terms with the governor’s order.

Normally congested freeways in California were truly free — of traffic — and city streets remained mostly empty in areas normally bustling with morning commuters emerging from rail stations and stopping at coffee shops and bakeries.

Los Angeles County Health Director Barbara Ferrer urged people to stay home and only go out for essential needs. Those who have been tested and come back negative shouldn’t have a false sense of security.

“You can be negative today and positive tomorrow,” she said. “Stay home as much as possible. You are safer at home."

Seneca applauds the United States’ approach to mitigate the coronavirus and the country’s response so far. Shutting things down, he says, allows the U.S. to “get a better picture of the outbreak.”

In addition to social distancing, Seneca says it’s critical for the country and tribes to test more people faster.

“In South Korea they're testing like 20,000 people a day. And the reason why responses are so effective is because they're over testing, and their fatality rate is 1 percent, which is huge,” he said. “To me, that's what we need to learn is that we need to get our testing methodologies in place.”

He has suggested decentralizing the test might produce results faster.

“We have many universities. We have many health departments. We have many research institutions. We have many counties and public health departments that can do very good testing,” he said. “Let them go. Let them test. Let them do what they do best.”

ICT Phone Logo

Mark Trahant, Patty Talahongva, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is the Washington editor for Indian Country Today based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @jourdanbb. Email: jbennett-begaye@indiancountrytoday.com

Indian Country Today, LLC., is a non-profit, public media enterprise. Reader support is critical. We do not charge for subscriptions and tribal media (or any media, for that matter) can use our content for free. Our goal is public service. Please join our cause and support independent journalism today. We have an audacious plan for 2020 and your donation will help us make it so. #MyICT #MyVoiceMyICT #SocksAlot


News

FEATURED
COMMUNITY