By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) has seen a surge of COVID-19 cases in October, and Tribal Council has taken action passing a public mask mandate. Res. No. 321 (2020) was passed unanimously by all present during an Annual Council session on Thursday, Oct. 29 and requires a cloth face covering in public and puts pressure on businesses not enforcing the rule.
Currently, a mask mandate is in place, per an executive order by Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed on June 23. That order states that all people 12 years of age and older must wear a cloth face covering while in an indoor establishment with several caveats to the rule such as dining in restaurants, medical conditions or disability, while in private offices, etc.
As of Oct. 30, the EBCI Joint Information Center reported 483 COVID-19 cases and four deaths since they began compiling data in March. A total of 279 (58 percent) of those cases were confirmed positive during the month of October.
Res. No. 321 was submitted by Big Cove Rep. Richard French, but it was amended to add that it was submitted by all of Tribal Council. It reads in part, “…to the extent available by applicable law, every person on the trust lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians shall be required to wear a cloth facing covering when in public and within six feet of another person. Exceptions are when eating or when in close contact only with persons who occupy the same residence as the person at issue.”
The legislation continues, “Any business that does not enforce the requirement to wear a cloth face covering on the premises on, possessed, controlled, or occupied by the business shall be subject to review by the Tribal Business Committee and potentially to suspension or revocation of the tribal business license under which the business operates.”
It also directs EBCI Public Health and Human Services Division to visit businesses periodically to ensure compliance with the law and report on those who are non-compliant.
“…if a customer is asked to comply with the requirement to wear a cloth face covering by a business on the Qualla Boundary and the customer fails or refuses to wear the covering, that business may ask the customer to leave. Failure to leave the business after being asked by the business owner, operator, or employee is trespassing and civil or criminal legal action may ensue.”
Rep. French noted on Thursday, “We’re trying to take care of the Eastern Band, but we’re trying to take care of everybody…we have a leader in the President not wearing a mask and telling people that we’re rounding the curve. And, I tell the people in Big Cove, the only curve we’re rounding is Stoney Curve because we know this virus is real.”
A COVID-19 survivor himself, he noted, “When you’re laying there and you can’t get your breath and you don’t know if that’s your last breath you’re going to breathe, it’s not funny. This is serious. We’re not trying to make it hard on people.”
Rep. French added, “What really got me was when I had to do a contact tracing. The two I had to give names for was my mother-in-law in her 80s and the next one was my grandson – six-years-old. The two that they tell you could be the worst are your elders and the kids and I was around two of those.”
Res. No. 321 does not offer any penalties for individuals violating the face covering rule when in public.
It will become law once ratified by Chief Sneed.