COVID-19 Incident Command changes as CTUIR moves into Recovery stage

By the CUJ

MISSION – Moving into Level 4 Recovery, the Board of Trustees (BOT) on June 22 transferred the Incident Command and changed the scope to monitoring the status of COVID-19 cases on the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

Ted Wright, Executive Director for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR), is the new Incident Commander charged with coordinating the Tribes’ response to the coronavirus pandemic through a newly structured Public Health Incident Command Organization.

Wright, working with an Incident Command Team that includes BOT Chair Kat Brigham, will routinely report monitoring by Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center and notify the Board of Trustees in the event that conditions warrant a return to Level 3 Response, according to the resolution passed 6-1 (General Council Chair Lindsey Watchman voted no.)

The BOT on March 2 declared a Public Health Emergency and enacted its Incident Command under the leadership of Chuck Sams, who has returned to his job as Communications director but remains a member of the Incident Command team with Rob Burnside, Public Safety director; Naomi Stacy, lead attorney in the Office of Legal Counsel; Paul Rabb, Finance director; Erin Biencourt, attorney in the Office of Child Support Enforcement; Lisa Guzman, Yellowhawk CEO; Gary George, Wildhorse CEO; and Billy Nerenberg, Cayuse Holdings CEO.

From the beginning of March, the original Incident Command closed all essential services at the Nixyaawii Governance Center, Wildhorse Resort & Casino, the Nixyaawii Education Center, cancelled committee and commission meetings, ceased or limited CTUIR Kayak public transit, discouraged unnecessary travel, adopted isolation and quarantine laws, provided emergency social services for food, housing and utilities, provided pandemic relief to Tribal members, authorized commission hearings to be held electronically, and continued to adjust the Tribes’ COVID-19 action plan as circumstances warranted.

On March 23, the BOT approved stay-at-home orders through April 28 for the Umatilla Indian Reservation and its entities. The BOT also authorized paid leave to facilitate compliance with Yellowhawk public health guidance for isolation and social distancing, and the stay-at-home orders.

On May 11, the Board by resolution approved the Tribes’ re-opening plan, which guided a resumption of governmental, business and community operations that could be safely engaged as prerequisite public health data and conditions were achieved.

In early June, the Incident Command determined it had completed the Level 3 response under the CTUIR Emergency Operations Plan, “assertively protecting the health and welfare of its members and the Reservation, aggressively expanding measures which protected elders and vulnerable populations, and made adjustments for continuity of essential governmental, community and commerce services” as directed by Board resolution.

At the time, two persons residing within the Umatilla Indian Reservation had tested positive for COVID-19. As of press time, Yellowhawk reported 11 people had tested positive.

Incident Command recommended an extension of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency through Dec. 31, 2020, noting Yellowhawk has “reasonably adequate PPE (personal protective equipment) for its health care providers and patients for the foreseeable future and has trained nine staff persons to conduct contact tracing.”

As part of its Level 4 Recovery resolution, the Board directed each Board member, Incident Command team member, and Tribal government department director to receive training on and competency in National Incident Management System (Federal Emergency Management Agency – FEMA) as soon as possible but no later than Sept. 30.

The Board directed Wright to provide a weekly update on COVID-19 virus prevalence on the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the surrounding region as well as CTUIR efforts to restrict the spread of the virus.