Pandemic hits home; IHS says it's ready for testing

FILE - This undated file photo provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows CDC's laboratory test kit for the new coronavirus. (CDC via AP, File)

Indian Country Today

BREAKING NEWS: Presumptive positive COVID-19 case at IHS facility in South Dakota

“An Indian Health Service patient from Charles Mix County, South Dakota, is presumed positive for COVID-19," wrote Indian Health Service in an email. "Presumed positive means a sample tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 at a state or local laboratory. A sample is being tested at a CDC lab for confirmation. IHS is working closely with the state to identify anyone else in the community who has been in close contact with the patient and may need to be tested. At this time, there is no need for members of the community who have not been in close contact with the patient and are not showing symptoms to seek testing. The IHS will continue to keep our tribal partners informed as the situation develops. More information on COVID-19 and how to prevent illness."

"All IHS facilities are capable of testing patients for COVID-19. There is no cost to patients for this testing. Following guidance established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, clinicians, including those at the IHS, collect samples with standard specimen collections swabs and access laboratory testing through public health laboratories in their jurisdictions. CDC guidance says clinicians should use their judgment to determine if a patient has signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19 and whether the patient should be tested. Decisions on which patients receive testing should be based on the local epidemiology of COVID-19, patient risk or exposures, as well as the clinical course of illness. Clinicians are strongly encouraged to test for other causes of respiratory illness, including infections such as influenza."

The Yankton Sioux Tribe announced a closure of all their tribal entities on March 11 on Facebook. They will be closed until March 13. Staff will return and offices will reopen March 16. Part of the tribe’s reservation sits in Charles Mix County.

The tribe is also closing the schools as recommended by the South Dakota Department of Health. The tribe could not be reached by Indian Country Today on which schools and for more information.

“This determination was to allow those entities to thoroughly, clean and disinfect their offices, buildings and workspaces, equipment. It is best to use Clorox and soapy water or a disinfectant clean and open window to air dry, if no windows, then just air dry,” as the statement reads. “Stay away from gatherings and public activities if at all possible.”

yankton sioux tribe covid19
(Facebook)

The Associated Press reports a total of 8 cases of coronavirus in South Dakota. Three men, including two in Minnehaha County and one in Bon Homme County, tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus and are recovering at home, Gov. Kristi Noem said in a brief news conference. Two of the infected people had traveled in the past week, while the third had not, said Kim Malsam-Rysdon, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Health. Malsam-Rysdon said she couldn't confirm which of the new cases had traveled and didn't say if the travel was to international destinations.

New Mexico has three confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday morning. The first cases in the state.

“New Mexico should feel secure that we’re doing everything we can to address this public health emergency. The House passed a bipartisan funding bill that will help keep families safe and healthy, we are supporting paid sick leave and expanding food assistance for those who are struggling to make ends meet because coronavirus is impacting work schedules and incomes,” said Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a public health emergency for the state during a press conference earlier today.

Across the country, tribes and tribal leaders are canceling public events and implementing emergency plans. They join national politicians who have cancelled rallies, states that have issued declarations of emergency, and a long list of other governmental bodies that have cancelled travel and public events to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

(Related story: March Sadness: As crowded as it’s going to get)

Today the National Indian Health Board said it was postponing the 2020 National Tribal Public Health Summit that was supposed to take place next week in Omaha, Nebraska. That conference included a listening session on COVID-19 response and communication between tribes and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The health board says “as a Tribal health organization” it’s important to “safeguard the health of all Tribal members, and that postponing the Summit to a date later in the year, could help to keep our Peoples healthy.”

“Tribal communities are the most vulnerable and least resourced to address a public health outbreak such as the COVID-19 virus,” the health board said on its web page. “Tribal communities are disproportionately impacted by health conditions that increase the risk of a more serious COVID-19-related illness. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, these conditions include (but are not limited to) heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory illnesses. Among our Peoples who are 8 years of age and over, rates of coronary heart disease are 1.5 times the rate for Whites, while rates of diabetes among our Peoples are nearly three times the general population.”

Google “powwow cancelled” and a dozen cancellations or postponements pop up: San Manuel in California, the Blind Horse in Alabama, Duke in North Carolina, Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, and the Honoring Our Native American Peoples Intertribal in California. The Camai Dance Festival scheduled for March 20-22 in Bethel, Alaska has been postponed to the Fall. Most of the cancellations are for events scheduled for March or April. Events scheduled for the summer have not been cancelled.

In Colorado, with 27 positive cases of Covid-19, the governor Tuesday declared a state of emergency. Denver’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade has been canceled. And the Colorado University system has begun remote teaching.

However, the Denver March Powwow, one of the nation’s largest, is still on schedule for March 20-22. On their website, organizers announced, “As with any illness there are precautions to take to insure the wellbeing of our guests… We will take proactive steps like providing more stand-along sanitizer stations, PSAs, etc. in the Coliseum. There is not a consideration of cancellation at the present time.” The Denver March Powwow typically draws more than 1,500 dancers from dozens of tribes in the United States and Canada.

The CDC has not issued a recommendation for the cancellation of public events, including guidelines on how to prevent the spread of coronavirus at mass gatherings.

Here is the CDC's information on what is COVID-19 and how not to spread it.

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Indian Country Today is updating a list of Native events that are being cancelled or postponed, along with tribally-issued advisories. Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Joaqlin Estus and Mark Trahant of Indian Country Today contributed to this report. 

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