Cherokee Nation rec center closing doors again amid COVID spike

Brandon Goad, center, a physical activities specialist at the Cherokee Nation Male Seminary Recreation Center, oversees an outdoor fitness class on July 23. The rec center is closing Aug. 9 until further notice due to an increase in COVID-19 cases. 

TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation’s rec center known by many as the Markoma gym is closing its doors Aug. 9 until further notice, according to the tribe.

In an Aug. 4 social media post, the CN said it was closing the Male Seminary Recreation Center “to protect the well-being of the clients and staff from undue risk.”

“The COVID-19 virus is spreading uncontrolled in Cherokee County and medical services throughout the area are at capacity,” the post stated.

On Aug. 4, the Oklahoma Department of Health reported more than 2,000 news cases of COVID-19 in less than 24 hours. Nearly 170 of those were in Cherokee County.

The CN rec center, located at 1501 Graham Ave., was initially shut down in March 2020, but at one point operations were restored only to cease again as the pandemic intensified. It reopened to the public this summer with COVID safety precautions, like mandatory masks and outdoor fitness classes.

The newest closure comes during a spike in COVID-19 cases within the CN’s health system.

“Cherokee Nation Health Services is seeing a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations, with 90% of new COVID cases occurring among unvaccinated patients,” an Aug. 3 news release states. “Just last week, 600 new cases were reported in the tribal health system, the highest number recorded since January of 2021 and an increase of more than 80% compared to the prior week’s cases.”

According to CN public health teams, the current swell in cases and related hospitalizations is driven by the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

“The Delta variant accounts for over 80% of the tribe’s new COVID cases,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in the news release. “A continued increase in cases could mean our health system is required to redirect health care staff from outlying health centers to assist in caring for hospitalized COVID patients at W.W. Hastings Hospital.”

The resurgence, he added, “once again threatens the overall well-being of the Cherokee Nation and the most vulnerable among us, including our Cherokee elders.”

According to the tribe, Health Services recently reached a milestone of fully vaccinating 70% of active CN government employees for the COVID-19 virus, a rate nearly twice that of counties in Oklahoma. Since December 2020, more than 65,000 vaccines have been administered through the CN health system.

COVID-19 vaccinations are available at all CN health center locations for anyone, regardless of tribal citizenship or residency, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday excluding holidays. Walk-ins are welcome, or appointments can be scheduled by calling 1-539-234-4099.