CN doctors say holidays could be ‘deadliest time’ for COVID-19
Staff members of the Cherokee Nation’s Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center on Oct. 22 conduct drive-thru COVID-19 testing in Stilwell. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation health experts have asked tribal leaders to help spread the word that the holiday season “could be the deadliest time of this pandemic.”
“We really need to focus on asking the question of was there really a need to gather if you don’t have to,” Dr. Stephen Jones, Health Services executive director, told Tribal Councilors on Nov. 16. “Our public health team, they’ll be the first to tell you that it’s the social gatherings that are spreading this pandemic, spreading this virus more than ever. I’m pleading with you to help us spread the message in your communities and help us to slow this down.”
The CN’s top medical professionals offered COVID-19 updates over the course of Tribal Council committee meetings Nov. 16-17.
So far, more than 43,700 COVID-19 tests have been administered, Jones said.
“Many of our areas have doubled and tripled the amount of people showing up for testing,” he said. “Every time we set a record in one of our clinics’ drive-thru, it seems like the next day we break that record. As you know, the numbers have increased exponentially over the last few weeks.”
Since reporting began earlier this year, CN Health Services has logged more than 4,500 cases of COVID-19, an estimated 1,100 of which are active, along with 33 deaths.
Spread of the virus is “as bad as it’s ever been,” Dr. David Gahn, CN Public Health medical director, said.
“You can see over the last two-and-a-half weeks, Oklahoma has gone straight up,” Gahn said of the recent spike in COVID-19 cases statewide. “This is distressing. This is exponential spread of the virus throughout Oklahoma. Every county in Oklahoma is in the red as far as the daily number of cases, and it’s looking really dire.”
Gahn added that between two-and-a-half and three weeks ago, the CN was seeing around 30 cases a day, but recently spiked to nearly 100 per day.
“Now we’ve flattened out at around 80 cases per day,” he said. “It’s really stressing our system with the exponential rise over the last two weeks.”
Jones lauded the efforts of health staff throughout the pandemic.
“Our staff is stressed. They’re tired,” he said. “They’ve been in a marathon for several months working seven days a week. Our health system doesn’t slow down. But they are dedicated and very, very determined to meet the needs of our patients.”