CN, federal health agencies take on coronavirus
A pharmacy entrance at the new W.W. Hastings Outpatient Health Center in Tahlequah is closed so visitors use only the front doors. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
A sign posted at the Cherokee Nation Veterans Center in Tahlequah urges visitors to help stop the spread of COVID-19, the coronavirus. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation and other health agencies are responding to the novel coronavirus with caution bolstered by strict safety protocols.
“The reality is the virus is spreading all over our region,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a March 24 address via Facebook. “This is a serious health crisis that requires everyone’s attention. Cherokee Nation cannot and we will not wait for other jurisdictions to decide how best to protect public health. We will remain guided by facts, medical science and compassion.”
Within CN Health Services, leaders are urging citizens to avoid unnecessary hospital visits, and have implemented safety procedures to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Cherokee Nation’s health system has first-class facilities and a first-class staff dedicated to responding to COVID-19,” Hoskin said. “These brave men and women are working to slow and stop the spread of the virus and provide care for those in need.”
In mid-March, the CN rolled out medical-related protocols based on Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Public Health Service recommendations. All non-emergency appointments for optometry, dental, audiology, radiology, physical therapy and elective surgery will be rescheduled to a later date, according to the tribe.
Also, pharmacy prescriptions will be extended from 30 to 90 days, where appropriate, and as determined by the medical provider, according to the CN.
“We encourage all of our patients to utilize our pharmacy convenience options such as drive-through, online refills, phone ordering and mail delivery to avoid unnecessary visits to the health centers,” a news release stated. “Cherokee Nation citizens who have questions about their upcoming appointment should contact their Cherokee Nation health center.”
A full list of health center phone numbers is available at health.chereokee.org/contact-us
. The CN also has established a COVID-19 call center at 1-833-528-0063. There is a specific hotline for Cherokee Speakers who have health questions or need for essential items at 1-539-234-4040.
“We want them to stay in and not have to worry about traveling to stores to get food,” Hoskin said.
As of press time, the CN had announced its first case of COVID-19 within its health care system.
“Last week, a Cherokee citizen in Tulsa passed away from complications from COVID-19, and today (March 24), we learned that a Cherokee citizen tested positive, the first such case in our health system,” Hoskin said. “Of course, we must all be concerned about the public health impact any time we learn of a positive test result.”
The CN citizen, a man in his 40s, has self-quarantined, Hoskin added.
“Cherokee Nation is following all safety protocols recommended by the CDC, the Indian Health Service and our own extraordinary leadership team,” Hoskin said. “Our team is making contact with individuals who may have had contact with this citizen so that they can be screened and also protected. This is a difficult time for this Cherokee citizen. It’s a difficult time for his loved ones.”
Hoskin noted that “a single test result does not mean only one person contracted the virus,” which has been deemed a serious public health threat by the CDC.
“You can best help protect your community by staying home, if possible,” he said.
The Indian Health Service says it continues to “work closely with our tribal partners and state and local public health officials” to coordinate a comprehensive public health response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation,” IHS Chief Medical Officer Michael Toedt said in a March 17 media call. “More cases of COVID-19 are likely to be identified in the coming days. The potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is very high.”
The number of IHS patients who tested positive for COVID-19, as of March 23, was 1,123, 52 of which were listed in Oklahoma City.
“Many of our service units are screening individuals for COVID-19 prior to entering our health facilities to determine their risk for COVID-19 and to prevent additional infections within our facilities,” the IHS website states. “Individuals suspected of having COVID-19 will be given a mask and cared for separately from other patients in a designated area with a provider. The National Supply Service Center is distributing personal protective equipment and other supplies to regional centers and to IHS, tribal, and urban facilities as quickly as possible to address supply shortages. We are exploring every avenue to acquire more supplies.”
U.S. Veterans Affairs clinics have implemented screening procedures and visitor restrictions.
“Using an abundance of caution, all VA medical facilities are implementing screening measures for signs of respiratory illness and exposure to COVID-19,” the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System noted in a March 23 news release. “This protocol will be in place until further notice. Onsite, we will use standardized screening questions at strategic entry points.”
The VA asks that patients arrive for their appointments 30 minutes early and come alone unless they need assistance from a direct caregiver or it is medically necessary. No one under the age of 18 will be permitted in any VA facility or clinic. Exceptions will be made, the VA says, “on a case by case basis.”
According to regional and national health agencies, COVID-19 causes flu and cold-like symptoms, including fever, cough and shortness of breath. The symptoms usually appear two to 14 days after being exposed to the virus. The VA recommends those with flu-like symptoms call 1-888-397-8387 before visiting hospitals or clinics. To communicate with providers, the VA offers virtual health care options that include MyHealtheVet, VA Video Connect and Annie App for veterans that allow patients to communicate with their providers and manage self-care online.
The VA system recommends that, for the time being, all veteran patients refill or renew their routine medications for mail delivery.