CN wants in on COVID-19 drug study
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation officials are awaiting final approval to offer outpatient use of a promising medication that reportedly shortens the COVID-19 recovery time.
Speaking to Tribal Councilors during the Sept. 14 Health Committee meeting, CN Health Services Executive Director Dr. Stephen Jones said he hopes to partner with California-based biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences Inc., in a volunteer study of antiviral medication remdesivir. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized remdesivir in May for emergency use related to severe COVID-19 cases.
“Currently it requires a five-day stay in the hospital to receive that,” Jones said. “So Gilead has a study we’ve been working to get in on or be a participant of for an outpatient use of remdesivir. We’re looking to get in on that study and hopefully help to get that approved for home.”
The CN is currently awaiting approval.
“Although we have been using remdesivir as a treatment inpatient, for us to be able to offer this as potentially outpatient and have that partnership is a big deal,” Chief of Staff Todd Enlow said.
Upcoming flu vaccination events are expected help the CN ready itself for an eventual COVID-19 vaccine.
“The very reason we’re doing this is not only to get the flu vaccine out quickly and efficiently,” Enlow said, “but for us to learn from this as the vaccine for COVID-19 is hopefully right behind that. We work out all the kinks. We have everything in place so that when we get the vaccine for COVID-19, we’ve already run through it with the flu vaccine and we’re able to get it out to our communities and citizens quicker and more efficiently.”
This season’s flu clinic schedule will soon be publicized, Jones told councilors.
“We have already started vaccinating our employees, and we have a schedule built for our flu-clinic teams,” he said. “Hopefully, we can work together to let people know where we’re at and when we’re there. Because of staffing and our capabilities this year, we’re not going to be able to be accessible to just have short notice to set up a flu clinic. Instead, we built out a full schedule of 250-plus locations that we’re going to be hitting at certain times.”
CN officials have reported a total of 1,716 COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 14. Health Services is following or monitoring 330 active cases, “a little bit of an uptick” over the past two weeks, said Jones.
“It seems to be the largest percentage of those currently are in the 18 to 35 range,” he said. “But we have seen an increase in the school-age range also. So about 32% in the 18 to 35 range and 17 and under about 14.5%.”
Tribal Councilors spent Sept. 14 in routine committee sessions capped by a monthly council meeting.
Education Committee members spoke at length about the future of Sequoyah High School sports, which were nixed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd warned of an exodus of student athletes if, like fall sports, spring sports are also cancelled.
“We didn’t do softball,” he said. “We didn’t do cross country. Now the parents are wanting to know what to do about basketball. By not allowing a controlled sport to take place at Sequoyah, we’re not preventing really anything because those same students are going to Vian, Tahlequah, Keys, Hulbert, and they’re still playing sports. So that risk we’re trying to prevent is still taking place. I feel like we need to give them some kind of answer in basketball.”
Speaking for the administration, Enlow said that while a decision was made to cancel fall sports, they are “open” to allowing spring sports like basketball.
“We have not given up on our students,” he said. “We have not given up on athletics. We’re just trying to find the right time to do it safely for everyone. I will tell you that one of our players that left to go play football somewhere else has tested positive. So, Speaker Byrd I agree, we can try to take care of our students as well or better than most. We just didn’t feel like it was safe to conduct fall sports.”
Enlow added that if a decision is made to cancel spring sports, “We will make that announcement as soon as we possibly can to give those students the opportunity to transfer somewhere else if they feel they absolutely have to.”