Cherokee Nation continues reopening plan, masks mandatory
TAHLEQUAH – With Oklahoma reporting record numbers of COVID-19 cases in late June, many Cherokee Nation employees – particularly those at higher risk – are waiting to see whether CN officials choose to continue on schedule with the reopening of offices and workplaces.
As of June 22, the CN had made no announcement concerning a possible delay to implementing the third phase of its reopening, scheduled for July 6. The start of Phase 3 would end the alternating days or weeks currently used in the Nation’s buildings to roughly halve staffing and minimize contact between workers. Offices would be back to full staff, but those 65 and over or at elevated risk must work from home or take administrative leave, unless willing to sign a waiver.
“Our government offices are now re-open to the public, allowing us to get back to the business of serving our citizens at capacities that continue to increase,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. in a video address posted June 12.
Hoskin said CN citizens are visiting tribal offices and staff are “working hard,” but he also encouraged use of online services when available, and told those visiting in person to follow safety protocols.
“If you visit one of our 150 offices across the 14-county jurisdiction, we thank you for wearing masks and keeping our workspaces safe,” Hoskin said.
Currently, the wearing of masks is expected for anyone inside CN offices or workplaces, whether employees, guests, clients, customers or visitors.
Hoskin added that the CN, through its recent agreement with Elite Element Testing Laboratories, had increasing access to test kits to routinely test workspaces for COVID-19.
“This is another measure to ensure that our employees and our citizens are out of harm’s way, and that all of our cleaning efforts are paying off,” Hoskin said.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported on June 22 that 10,733 state residents had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Despite all-time highs in incidence, there has not been an accompanying increase in deaths. The state’s COVID-19 death toll stood at 369 on June 22.
Officials have also said the state’s health care resources are not under stress, despite the increase in positive COVID-19 tests. The OSDH report for June 12-18 said 211 Oklahomans were hospitalized for novel coronavirus infections.
Hoskin said the CN Health Services were sighing with relief, and remained vigilant.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” he said. “We are still seeing a few new cases of citizens who have tested positive for COVID-19 in our health system. As we integrate back into society, it remains vital that we wear our masks, use hand sanitizer and practice social distancing. We’re practicing those safety measures here in the Cherokee Nation and inside our casinos. We’ll continue to take these measures….”
The CN on May 8 announced the phases of its reopening. The phases had target dates, but were not rigid. The status of public health in the CN jurisdiction and Oklahoma must be conducive to reopening, and dates can be delayed. CN officials did not anticipate any phases being enacted earlier than the target dates.
Phase 4, starting no earlier than Aug. 4, will allow all employees to return to the office, though high-risk employees can request continued arrangements to work from home or administrative leave. Employees making the request will be expected to shelter in place, and be available at home during regular business hours if applicable.
Phase 5, which begins no earlier than Sept. 7, is when all employees will be expected to return to work in their respective offices.