Cherokee seeing COVID surge

by Jan 6, 2022Health, NEWS ka-no-he-da0 comments



One Feather Staff


Like communities across the country, Cherokee has been seeing a large surge of COVID-19 cases.  And like in other places, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ community has been affected by closures, delays in openings, and other COVID-19 protective measures.

Since Dec. 16, 2021, the EBCI Joint Information Center (JIC) reported there have been 314 new positive COVID cases in the Cherokee community and one death.

“The highly contagious Omicron variant, coupled with an increase in what we call social mixing during the holidays, caused a surge in cases,” said Vickie Bradley, EBCI Secretary of Health and Human Services.

The EBCI tribal government opened back on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, following a two-week holiday.  That afternoon, Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed issued a memorandum instituting various measures.

“Eastern Band of Cherokee tribal citizens are naturally a very social and family-oriented people, and as such the holiday season brought about a time for joyful gatherings with families, friends, and loved ones,” Chief Sneed’s memo states.  “Unfortunately, the increased personal interaction, coupled with a surge of positive COVID-19 cases regionally and nationally, has increased the number of positive COVID-19 cases on the Qualla Boundary and surrounding communities.”

His memorandum mandated that tribal and EBCI-entity employees wear a mask except if they’re in an office alone with the door closed or outside and can social distance.  Virtual, as opposed to in-person, meetings were encouraged and it stated, “EBCI community members who are not fully vaccinated should avoid mass gatherings (an indoor gathering of more than 25 people).”

As of Wednesday, Jan. 5, a total of 64 percent of the EBCI population is fully vaccinated compared to 67 percent of the State of North Carolina and 71 percent nationwide.  The following percentages were reported of those who have received at least one shot: EBCI 60 percent, North Carolina 63 percent, and U.S. 74 percent.  The 3200 Acre Tract is the top community (at least one shot) with 73 percent with Snowbird Community at the bottom with 34 percent.  The rest of the communities are as follows: Yellowhill 69 percent, Big Cove/Tow String 68 percent, Big Y 68 percent, Wolftown 68 percent, Painttown 68 percent, Birdtown 63 percent, and Cherokee Co. 47 percent.

Secretary Bradley said of the EBCI’s vaccination numbers, “I think we can do a lot better. We are still significantly below where we should be for vaccination rates. I would like to see at least 80 percent of our community fully vaccinated. There are many tribes that are well above 80 percent, and I think, as EBCI citizens, we should do all that we can to protect each other. We have ample vaccine available and plenty of access to get the vaccine. The decision to take the vaccine is about protecting the health and welfare of ourselves and others. I’m confident the vaccine is safe and effective; it is the best protection that we have to prevent loss of life from this disease in our community.”

When asked if there may be safe family gathering in these days, Secretary Bradley noted, “There are ways to be safer if you choose to gather:

  1. Only gather with those that are current on their COVID vaccinations. This means that you have been boosted or completed the primary series of Pfizer within the last five months or completed the primary series of Moderna vaccine within the last six months or completed the primary series of J&J vaccine within the last two months.
  2. Wear well-fitting masks over your nose and mouth if you are in a public indoor setting (weddings, funerals, sports games) even if you are fully vaccinated.
  3. Avoid crowded, poorly ventilated indoor spaces
  4. If you are sick or have symptoms, don’t host or attend a gathering
  5. Use at home tests if you want more certainty that you don’t have COVID. A positive self-test means that you have an infection and should avoid indoor gatherings to reduce the risk of spreading disease to someone else. A negative self-test means that you may not have an infection. Repeating the test with at least 24 hours between tests will increase confidence that you are not infected.
  6. Allow for ample ventilation/fresh air in the indoor setting.
  7. Remember to practice good hygiene, wash hands, sanitize often, and practice social distancing”

Cherokee Central Schools (CCS) was scheduled to start back on Jan. 5, but school officials delayed that opening until Monday, Jan. 10.  In a statement, school officials noted, “This will allow CCS enough time to ensure our staff COVID-19 test results have been received prior to the return of our students. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, but the safety of our students and staff are our highest priority.”