EBCI forms Coronavirus Joint Information Center

by Mar 12, 2020Front Page, Health, NEWS ka-no-he-da





Thursday morning, March 12 marked the first meeting of a Joint Information Center (JIC) that was called for by EBCI Public Health and Human Services. 

The group has been formed to ensure consistency and quality in all information that is distributed regarding the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. 

These meetings are not to make operating decisions, but to increase communications between all necessary departments on the boundary. It is an assortment of all Public Information Officers (PIOs) and other representatives among those departments. 

Tribal officials in various departments of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are shown at the first meeting on Thursday, March 12 of a Joint Information Center (JIC) that was called for by EBCI Public Health and Human Services. The group has been formed to ensure consistency and quality in all information that is distributed regarding the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. (JONAH LOSSIAH/One Feather photo)

The current plan is for the JIC to meet daily at one central location until it is determined that COVID-19 is no longer a threat to the community. The meetings will consist of creating action items, sharing information among the different departments, and ensuring that consistent messages are being distributed from the correct sources. 

All parties have been added to a group text and other forms of communication to maintain contact. They will also be added to a shared folder to allow resources to be shared throughout the different departments. 

Cherokee Indian Hospital released a video on their Facebook page on the evening of Wednesday, March 11 explaining that they had a patient under investigation for COVID-19, though testing results have not yet been released. 

“We want to assure you that while we’re waiting on test results from the state lab, this patient is considered very low risk. This patient poses no threat to the community. As a precaution, the hospital is setting up tents outside the entrances (of the hospital) to ask patients and visitors certain questions to prevent the possible spread of germs.” said Executive Medical Director Dr. Richard Bunio in the video statement.

Dr. Bunio, as well as Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority’s Public Information Coordinator Sheyahshe Littledave, said that it is best to first contact your primary care physician before coming to the hospital. 

There are plenty of precautions being taken across the Qualla Boundary, and the Cherokee One Feather will be covering any closures or postponements.

Ashleigh Stephens, the PIO for the Executive Office, said at the meeting that they would be putting a halt to Tribally funded travel. 

The following memo was also sent to all tribal employees on March 12:

“Effective immediately, travel by EBCI employees will not be approved for business travel for the next several weeks.  Any scheduled travel taking place before May 1st must be cancelled.  We will work with federal and state partners to ensure any training/events missed will not negatively affect grant/educational requirements.  Travel scheduled on or after May 4 will be evaluated in the coming weeks with a determination made no later than April 20.   

Due to an overabundance of caution and in the interest of keeping our community members safe it is being recommended that any EBCI sponsored events and trainings happening in the months of March and April be postponed.  A determination will be made for future gatherings by April 20.  If you have questions about a gathering that your program sponsors please communicate with your Director and Secretary to determine how to proceed.”

The UNC school system has also taken significant precautions across the state. The following statement is from an official UNC system press release.  “All UNC System institutions will transition from in-person instruction to a system of alternative course delivery, where possible and practical, no later than March 20. Alternative course delivery will begin on March 23 and last indefinitely.”

Many schools in North Carolina, including Western Carolina University, are extending their Spring break by one week and moving to online only courses. 

Cherokee Central Schools is currently operating as usual while ensuring that health precautions are taken. However, CCS Director of Community Affairs Yona Wade said that the school is preparing for anything. 

“The protocol is that we stay open and wait for recommendations from local health organizations as to whether or not we should be closing our facility … we have a crisis management plan in place like everyone else does, a continuity of operations plan, and are finalizing our pandemic preparedness piece,” said Wade.

“There is not any one trigger that necessarily says school is closed. We are preparing in the event that school may need to close. We do have materials ready to go. Our students at the high school are already doing online classes. So, it’s just making sure we have that prep time, which is kind of in line with what you’re seeing with Western. They just extended there (Spring Break) one week to allow for their staff to have time to pull together information. We’ve been doing that.”

The JIC will be meeting each morning at the EOC until notified otherwise, and the Cherokee One Feather will continue to be involved moving forward.