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Dalton Walker
Indian Country Today

National Guard help is coming to a rural northern Minnesota tribe after a surge in COVID-19 has hit some of its most vulnerable citizens and frontline workers.

The Jourdain/Perpich Extended Care Center on the Red Lake Nation suspended indoor visitations to its facility in late October and a few days after reported that some residents and staff had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

On Monday, Red Lake Chairman Darrell Seki Sr., said 19 residents and 13 staff members at the nursing home have tested positive and of the 19, three are in intensive care.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz authorized state National Guard nurses to be deployed to the facility. Seki said he spoke with Walz virtually on Monday and the National Guard help could come as soon as Tuesday. Seki updated the tribe on the coronavirus impact in a YouTube video posted Monday.

“Due to the increased numbers of COVID cases in our area, Gov. Walz will activate National Guard nurses to assist at our nursing home as our registered nurses and CNAs have tested positive,” Seki said.

The help comes as Minnesota and other Midwest states have seen an increase in positive cases. Tribes have also reported increases as many tribal leaders and health officials plea for tribal citizens to stay home and take caution.

It’s unclear how many nurses will be deployed to Red Lake. More than 200 guard members were recently activated to support the state’s COVID-19 response efforts and numbers could double by the end of the week, according to the Minnesota National Guard.

In a guard statement, facilities that have exhausted all other staffing options due to positive cases can request assistance.

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Most of the Red Lake reservation falls in Beltrami County, which has seen a rise in cases since October. The county reported 1,425 cases to date as of Nov. 13 and 271, or about 19 percent, of those cases were reported in the last week alone. The county is home to Bemidji, the largest town in the area and relied on by many for essential services like grocery shopping.

The 47-bed nursing home is next to the Red Lake hospital in the community of Red Lake. Both facilities aren’t allowing visitation by non-patients with the exception of end of life cases and pediatrics.

A message seeking additional information left with the facility’s administrator wasn’t immediately returned Tuesday.

Seki reported 46 active cases on the reservation on Monday and 174 cases total since the start of the pandemic. He asked citizens ages 18 to 39 to get tested. Testing is available at the tribe’s hospital and the hospital averages around 100 tests a day.

“This is the age group that we are seeing a surge of cases on,” he said. “Get tested to keep your relatives safe, especially elders and the children.”

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Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter: @daltonwalker Walker is based in Phoenix and enjoys Arizona winters.

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