By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Tribal officials of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians announced the first confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19) on the Qualla Boundary during a press conference on Friday, March 27.
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed stated during the press conference, “The individual is a part-time Qualla Boundary resident. Given their part-time residence status, this case will not be counted as a North Carolina case. This individual has been in isolation at their residence on the Qualla Boundary since the onset of their symptoms and will continue to stay there.”
Chief Sneed was joined during the press conference, held at the Anthony Edward Lossiah Justice Center, by Vickie Bradley, EBCI Secretary of Public Health and Human Services, and Casey Cooper, Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority chief executive officer.
In response to a One Feather question regarding information on the confirmed patient, Bradley said, “At this time, as with any communicable disease, we cannot release personal identifying information about the patient. But, what we can say is the patient at home following isolation orders and is doing well at this time.”
Cooper spoke to the COVID-19 testing process, “Essentially following state guidance for testing, patients who are suspected as being COVID positive would come into the health facility, and the test is just a a very quick and very basic nasopharyngeal swab where we place a swab into the patient’s nose. The test is sent off, and it has taken about three to five days to get results back.”
The One Feather then asked about protocols for patients after initial testing as well as if a patient’s test comes back positive. Bradley said, “If someone is confirmed positive – we have a relationship with the Swain County Health Department, they have jurisdiction on the Qualla Boundary – the patient would be notified, given isolation orders, and we would do what we call contact tracing where their contacts are notified. They are asked to self-monitor and stay at home as much as possible, and then that patient is monitored for symptoms to see how they’re doing and they would be asked to isolate for 14 days.”
The One Feather inquired about heightened precautions being taken at the Cherokee Indian Hospital to which Cooper responded, “The hospital has increased all of its efforts to prevent the spread of the virus within the community and in the hospital. We’ve implemented a lot of measures including things that the community has seen like external screening outside the facility. We have set up testing sites on the exterior of the facility as well, and we’ve ensured that all of our relevant staff are adequately equipped and trained with their personal, protective equipment. And, we have a number of teams that are actually developing contingency plans as we speak.”
He added, “We would encourage the community to continue to follow the recommendations that have come from Public Health and Human Services in the Tribe and that is to maintain physical distancing, stay at home as much as possible, practice good personal hygiene and make sure that you wash your hands, and if you develop signs or symptoms or you’re concerned, call the health system first. Don’t come to the health system, call us first.”
Cooper said that as of the morning of March 27 at 9 a.m., a total of 30 patients have been tested at Cherokee Indian Hospital for COVID-19 with 25 tests coming back negative, one positive, with the rest pending.
Chief Sneed concluded the press conference by saying, “The protection and security of all tribal citizens is something that I take very seriously. As everyone is aware, we have implemented sweeping orders to lessen the spread of the virus in our community. And, we will continue to look for ways to keep our citizens safe. I ask our tribal citizens for your cooperation with all of the orders that are in place, and while we must remain calm, we must also be vigilant. Vigilant in limiting our risk of exposure. We all have a personal responsibility to each other and to our Cherokee elders.”
He went on to say, “Staying at home, keeping away from others and practicing good hygiene while in public is the best things we have to keep this public health crisis from spreading.”
Chief Sneed also announced an amendment to his executive orders on COVID-19. During the time of the curfew, 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., Highway 19 in the Birdtown and Wolftown Communities will be closed. All incoming traffic to the Qualla Boundary during this time must go through the security checkpoint on US 441.
For more information on COVID-19 locally, call the Cherokee Indian Hospital’s COVID Hotline at 497-3743.