Cherokee Nation announces delay of reopening plan
TAHLEQUAH – Amid an increase in COVID-19 cases that have reached record daily numbers in Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation will delay the next phases in its reopening plan that began June 1.
Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a message sent to employees that the third phase of the reopening will not take effect on July 6, and the current second phase will continue.
“In light of the COVID-19 infection rates in the state of Oklahoma increasing, moving into our next scheduled phase on July 6 causes us to pause to consider the facts,” Hoskin said. “We have made the decision, with consideration and input from health experts and our medical team, to delay the next phase of coming together for work until August 3, 2020.”
Before June, the worst single day of reported COVID-19 incidence in Oklahoma was 285 cases on May 12. During June, there have been eight days exceeding that number – the worst being 463 reported cases on June 16. Seven day averages had nearly tripled by June 26.
Phase 3, when implemented, will end the alternating days or weeks currently used in the Nation’s buildings to roughly halve staffing and minimize contact between workers. Offices would return to full staff, but those 65 and over or at elevated risk will continue to work from home or take administrative leave, unless willing to sign a waiver.
“This decision means that our two-team staggered work shift approach will remain in effect until at least August 3, 2020,” Hoskin said. “Those employees that are currently working from home or on administrative leave should continue to work or remain at home. Those employees that work as part of an alternating team should continue to do so.”
The CN reopening plan, first announced May 8, set dates for the beginning of five phases, but tribal officials insisted the dates were not rigid and could be delayed based on the status of coronavirus infection in Oklahoma.
The fourth phase, which allows for all employees to return while allowing high-risk employees to request continued working from home or administrative leave, is now unlikely to begin before September. The final phase, when all employees will be expected to return to work in their respective offices, is not likely to begin before October.
Under the reopening plan for Oklahoma announced by Gov. Kevin Stitt, many cities removed their stay-at-home and business closure orders in accordance. However, local governments and individual businesses can continue measures to counter the virus, and recommendations to social distance and wear masks are still in place.
On June 25, Stitt said closing businesses again in Oklahoma isn’t even being considered.
“We are so far away from talking about this, again we just have to learn how to live with it,” Stitt said of new restrictions.
Also on June 25, Dr. George Monks, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, said the coronavirus situation had worsened under Oklahoma’s reopening plan.
“On behalf of Oklahoma’s physicians, I urge Gov. Stitt and the Oklahoma State Department of Health to enhance their call of robust safety guidelines for Oklahoma businesses and public spaces that require employees and customers to wear masks around others,” Monks said. “The public has the information on how to impede the spread of this deadly virus: wear a mask in public; wash hands or use sanitizer often, and conduct social distancing, but too many people are still taking an ‘it’s not my problem’ approach to the virus. Oklahomans must decide if we’re going to move forward in the safest way possible...”