By ANYSSA BOHANAN
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY
While some rural counties prepare to begin reopening by May 15, the Warm Springs Reservation is ramping up precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Confederated Tribe of Warm Springs is the first government to require its residents to quarantine and wear masks during the pandemic.
The Warm Springs Reservation didn’t see its first COVID-19 cases until just a few weeks ago, but Warm Springs’ Director of Government Affairs and Planning Louie Pit Jr. said he fully expects those numbers to increase.
“We have a few folks that may not get the message, and so right now we’re trying to figure out how hard a message should we as a government do to help people understand the seriousness of this,” Pitt said.
14 residents of Warm Springs have tested positive for COVID-19. Pitt said he knows through contact tracing that those who are confirmed positive with the virus are staying home.
Other Native American populations across the country are struggling to contain the virus.
“I think it’s the messaging getting out to the tribal folks and trust level could be a part of that too,” said Pitt. “Historically we’ve been funded probably half of our needs so a lot of folks don’t get the message about how dangerous it is.”
To help prevent further spread of the disease, businesses like Indian Head Casino have closed, Warm Springs government buildings have closed until at least June 1 and the Tribal Council has emphasized social distancing within the community.
Masks are mandatory in public and in areas where six feet between others isn’t possible.
Although a sovereign nation, the council has also considered Governor Brown’s state precautions.
“We respect what she has to say and what her professionals have to say, and the council has factored that in to see what can happen because you really do need a cohesive plan between border of the reservation, our neighbors,” Pitt said.
Unfortunately, Pitt says there aren’t enough tests or PPE to go around, and they’re going to need help.
“I think we’re very similar to other communities that nobody gets what they need,” said Pitt. “We were all kind of surprised by all this and testing would be great, to have great tests really gives you a lot of understanding about how the disease works. I’m planning on it getting worse and then what do we do to slow it down or stop it totally if we can?”
Pitt says he’s encouraging Warm Springs residents to continue taking every precaution to prevent the spread of the disease.