Some see normal as a go ... while others say no after COVID-19 disruption

Indian Country Today

Tribes, organizations and enterprises try to conduct business and mitigate fears about the virus

The National Indian Gaming Association says it’s a go. The Intertribal Council of Arizona says no. And the Umatilla Casino has reopened its doors.

Across the country tribes, organizations, and enterprises, are trying to conduct business and at the same time mitigate fears about COVID-19.

And the Umatilla Tribe’s casino has reopened. Wildhorse Resort and Casino reopened around noon Wednesday two days after it closed for deep cleaning after an employee tested positive for the virus. The deep cleaning took place at the casino, movie theater, hotel, conference center, restaurants and children’s entertainment center at the resort.

The Yakima Herald reported that officials with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation , inspected the resort and issued a letter of certification.

A news release from the National Indian Gaming Association said its annual convention and trade show will go on as scheduled, March 24-27, in San Diego. “We are following the suggestions of the U.S. and state public health guidelines as they are developing with regards to the COVID-19 virus,” the association said. The association said it is taking a number of steps to protect attendees, ranging from additional hand sanitation stations to medical support onsite.

An international Indigenous tourism conference scheduled for Isleta Pueblo on March 17 and March 18 is also planning to go on as scheduled. An email this week said: “... the Indigenous Tourism Forum of the Americas is continuing as scheduled. We are monitoring the Coronavirus situation.”

Chris James, president and CEO of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, said tourism, the service industry, and gaming could be hit. He saw the impact in Las Vegas, Nevada, where the organization just hosted its 2020 Reservation Economic Summit with more than 2,400 attendees from the United States, New Zealand and Canada, that tourism was already affected.

“It's hard to predict the overall impact at this point,” he said over the phone. “I know that in some of our communities, there's already been some impact with closing down those facilities.”

“And I know since, you know tourism is such a huge part of the global industry. And we know that 10 percent of all jobs in the world is based around tourism,” James said, who is Eastern Band of Cherokee. “And when it trickles down to our communities, that means a lot of the jobs and the communities folks won't be able to work. They won't be able to if it's a service industry probably will get the hardest hit.”

The service industry includes restaurants and hotels at national or international destinations where people have to eat and need a place to stay.

“Unfortunately a lot of those jobs are not you know a lot of them service jobs or minimum wage jobs. So already there is a wage gap. And it's those folks who aren’t able to work or even worst case scenario gets laid off that's gonna hit some of our hardest hit areas,” James said. “And so when folks have anxiety to travel or feel a little nervous to travel, I will see that will trickle down to our communities.”

Other tribes are significantly cutting back on travel. The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians announced its Yawa Award's or the "Forging Hope" breakfast was being postponed.

We recently sent you an invitation to attend our Forging Hope breakfast. However this event has been postponed ... We apologize for any inconvenience and we thank you for understanding. The spread of the virus is a “significant concern for all of us here at San Manuel,” said an email to participants. “Out of an abundance of caution we are postponing the Forging Hope Breakfast, which was scheduled for March 12, 2020, in San Bernardino. The health and well-being of our partners is our highest priority, prompting us to take this preventative measure. We are monitoring the situation and will let you know when we can reschedule this event.”

The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona is cancelling its annual lobbying trip set for Washington, D.C. March 9 through 12.

Northwestern University just cancelled all travel, including international exchange students.

It affected one fellow who is Cherokee and Ojibwe. Her trip to Paris was cancelled.

The National Tribal Health Summit is still scheduled to begin March 17 in Omaha and it will kick off with a pre-summit listening session. That session is scheduled for 4 pm.

The Denver March Powwow in Colorado is still “moving forward” with their plans to celebrate their 46th annual powwow. They are not considering cancelling their event at this time.

They are working with the mayor’s office, VISIT Denver, and the Coliseum staff for prevention tips. “As with any illness there are precautions to take to insure the well being of our guests,” they wrote on Facebook. “We will take proactive steps like providing more stand-alone sanitizer stations, PSAs, etc. in the Coliseum.”

Timeout for sports?

Japan’s Olympic minister says the country's contract to hold the Tokyo Games only specifies the event has to be held during the year 2020. Seiko Hashimoto’s response to a question in the upper house of parliament implies the Summer Olympics could be held later in the year. But the International Olympic Committee pushed back at the idea, issuing a statement expressing its commitment to Tokyo Games "taking place from July 24 to Aug. 9, 2020.”

And in the NBA, fans hoping for a high-five from their favorite players may have to wait. The league is recommending players avoid such contact to reduce the risk of getting sick. A memo to players also says not to take pens and jerseys from fans seeking autographs, and offers reminders on general best practices to reduce the spread of germs, like staying home when feeling ill. The advice comes after health officials in some parts of Europe advised against handshakes and cheek-kissing.

Brent Cahwee, editor of NDN Sports, is a long-time spectator and writer about sports in Native communities. He co-founded the website approximately 20 years ago. He follows Native athletes on the field or on the court and at all levels of the games. Since the Pawnee citizen resides near Haskell Indian Nations University, he instantly thought of college students going on spring break this month with COVID-19 spreading around the globe.

“Some of them go home, they're going to go into these communities that may have the virus or be exposed to people on their travels. They go through airports or bus stations or whatever. They could possibly pick it up there and bring it back to get back to the college campuses,” he said. “And there outta be a kind of a response plan to do that.”

Cahwee said the timing is unfortunate. “As March comes around for Indian country, you have a lot of schools in different states that are wrapping up the state tournaments this week, next week in the near future, and then as soon as, as soon as those tournaments are over, or state tournaments over then the travel ball season starts right away in March,” he said.

“You have some big tournaments that are coming up between now and basically until the end of the summer until school starts,” Cahwee said. In a major tournament there could be hundreds of players, referees, and other participants so it’s important that tournament directors have a plan and know how they are going to address the teams that might get sick “before they get there.”

The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in Fort Hall, Idaho, has announced its March basketball tournaments were being rescheduled until May. “Tribal officials are taking safety precautions for all,” the announcement on Facebook said.

Basketball may seem like just a sport, but to many athletes the tournaments are an opportunity to be seen by scouts in hopes of receiving a scholarship to play collegiate basketball.

There are "dozens and dozens of high school tournaments" this month "so it's gonna have a huge impact pressure on a lot of kids who are trying to get exposure to get recruited for college ball. You make plans to attend these tournaments or games to get exposure,” Cahwee said. “There's a lot of things that are riding on the tournament's than just playing.”

And, of course, spectators are another factor for tournament directors to consider.

“So you have a lot of spectators who bring families that travel with the team. They bring their kids and grandparents and they come and enjoy the games, too,” he said. “So it could have an economic impact in all these cities that these tournaments are hosting as well.”

Cahwee said that having spectator-free rez ball tournaments would be “kind of impossible” for Indian Country. “You have a lot of parents that invest a lot of money in the rez ball tournament fees and travel costs and they want to make sure they're right there and protecting their investment and stuff like that,” he said.

Several universities are addressing concerns about spring break.

Arizona State University President Michael Crow released a statement Thursday, just a few days before the start of the school's week-long hiatus. Crow reiterated that U.S. health officials consider China, Iran, Italy and South Korea high-risk areas for COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also deems Japan and Hong Kong as a risk.

Crow says anyone who travels from those countries must undergo a two-week self-quarantine at home or at an off-campus residence. However, nobody is officially enforcing such quarantines.

Crow says the university can help students who may have a hard time with self-isolation for financial or other reasons.

A man in the ASU community was one of the first reported coronavirus cases in the U.S. He was released from isolation Feb. 21 after testing negative for the virus.

Roundup of other COVID19 news

Australia has banned travel from South Korea and will more thoroughly screen travellers from Italy in a bid to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

The travel ban from late Thursday follows similar bans on travel from China and Iran.

Australian citizens and permanent residents are exempt from the ban. Those returning from Korea are asked to self-isolate for 14 days when they return home.

The new measures come as a 95-year-old nursing home resident became the second person in Australia to die with COVID-19 disease.

China

China's deaths from the new COVID-19 illness have surpassed 3,000 though new cases have fallen steadily.

Authorities on Thursday reported 31 deaths over the previous 24 hours.

Another 139 cases of infection with the new coronavirus were reported, all but five of them in the hardest-hit province of Hubei.

While Hubei hospitals admitted another 134 patients, a further 1,923 were declared cured and released.

The update brings China's totals to 80,409 cases and 3,012 deaths. It has the vast majority of cases and deaths though the virus has spread to more than 70 countries.

China's numbers have fallen steadily. Though Thursday's cases were up by 20 from Wednesday's, deaths were seven lower.

CDC updates

U.S. officials say a medical screener at the Los Angeles International Airport has contracted the coronavirus.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says it's unclear if the person contracted the virus through their work as a medical screener or from community transmission. The agency said no travelers screened at LAX have tested positive for coronavirus.

The person, who is a contractor for the Department of Homeland Security, is being quarantined at home and has mild symptoms.

The patient last worked at the airport on Feb. 21 and began feeling cold-like symptoms on Feb. 29. The patient's doctor tested them for coronavirus on March 1.

Officials say the screener wore protective equipment at the airport.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating a "small cluster" of patients with the new coronavirus in Northern California who were passengers of a Grand Princess cruise ship that traveled from San Francisco to Mexico in February, including a patient who died at a hospital Wednesday.

The Grand Princess' chief medical officer says the ship is at sea off the coast of Mexico and will skip a scheduled stop in Ensenada and return directly to San Francisco, where CDC and cruise officials will meet to determine the next course of action. He said guests who sailed on the Feb. 11-21 voyage and are currently on the ship need to remain in their rooms until they are cleared by medical staff.

The ship is expected to dock in San Francisco Thursday.

Washington state has reported a 10th death from the new coronavirus and California announced its first.

Health officials in Northern California say the elderly person who had other health conditions died Wednesday at a hospital in Roseville where they were in isolation.

The person was likely exposed to the virus while they traveled in February on a Princess cruise ship from San Francisco to Mexico, officials said in a statement

The Washington state Department of Health released updated figures Wednesday morning, showing that nine people had died in King County, the state's most populous, and one person in Snohomish County. Washington state has now reported 39 COVID-19 cases, all in the greater Seattle area.

Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington on Sunday said they had evidence COVID-19 may have been circulating in the state for up to six weeks undetected. If true, that could mean that there are hundreds of undiagnosed cases in the area.

Officials in Los Angeles have signed proclamations of local emergencies after six new cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in the county, where there was one previously.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the director of the county Department of Public Health, said Wednesday that all of the COVID-19 cases were due to a known exposure and not the result of so-called community transmission. She said one person was hospitalized and five others were in self-quarantine at home.

The emergency declarations in the county and city are aimed at aiding efforts to respond to the virus and free up resources. Authorities are also assisting shelters to prevent transmission of the virus in the homeless population.

White House meeting

President Donald Trump is putting a positive spin on the fallout from the coronavirus, saying a lot of people are staying in the United States and they're shopping and staying in the hotels.

Trump spoke with leaders of the airline industry on Wednesday at the White House. The executive spoke of steps they've taken to confront the spread of the new virus.

Southwest Airlines CEO and board chairman Gary Kelly said employees have stepped up efforts to make sure airplanes are clean and disinfected.

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz said workers are doing what he called the "corona bump," where they bump elbows as part of their greeting.

Trump thanked the airlines and said they've "stepped up" to stem the spread of the virus.

A U.S. health official says six new cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in Los Angeles County, where there was one previously.

Each case confirmed Tuesday night was due to a known exposure and not the result of community transmission, according to Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the county Department of Public Health. She spoke at a press conference on Wednesday.

She says one person has been hospitalized and five others were in self-quarantine at home.

The county's first case was in January, a person who lived in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak. She says that person is no longer infectious.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the social network is stepping up its efforts to combat virus-related misinformation by giving the World Health Organization free advertising.

Zuckerberg said in a post on his Facebook account that the company is working with national health ministries and global organizations like the World Health Orgnization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF to get out timely and accurate information on the virus.

Zuckerberg said Facebook will also give "support and millions more in ad credits" to other unspecified organizations.

Facebook has previously taken other measures to fight virus hoaxes and misinformation, including removing false claims and conspiracy theories and showing users a pop-up directing them to the World Health Organization or their local health authority for the latest information.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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