Tribes respond to Umatilla County return to ‘stay home’ status; Wildhorse closing from midnight to 8 a.m.

Incident Command Team outlines provisions for Tribal members and employees

By Wil Phinney of the CUJ

MISSION – Wildhorse Casino will temporarily close from midnight to 8 a.m. as part of the actions being taken by leaders on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in response to Umatilla County being ordered back to a baseline “stay home” status due to rapid spread of COVID-19.

The Board of Trustees for the Confederated Tribes met with its Incident Command Team Friday morning to address the order sent down Thursday evening by Gov. Kate Brown that moved Umatilla County from Phase 2 back to the baseline as of noon Friday (July 31).

The Incident Command Team response outlined several provisions for Tribal members and employees of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation:

  • Continue to encourage the community to stay at home as much as possible.
  • Maintain social distancing of at least six feet, wash your hands, and wear a mask.
  • Community facilities, including the Longhouse, will be closed until further notice.
  • Gatherings are limited to 10 people, indoors and outdoors.
  • Funerals, specifically, are limited to 10 members of the immediate family. Those conducting funeral services will be responsible for recovering who is attendance. This is necessary for public health infection tracing in the event attendees transmit COVID-19 to other funeral attendees. For employees, administrative leave will not be approved for attendance at funerals, nor for isolation/quarantine requirements for employees that fail to adhere to this directive.
  • Emergency daycare services currently being provided for children ages 6-10 at Nixyaawii Education Center will end Friday, Aug. 7.
  • Families may continue to sweat together with those who reside in the same household, but due to the increased risk of transmission, community sweats are not allowed until further notice.
  • Off-reservation enterprises, Birch Creek Golf Course and Hamley’s Steakhouse, will limit food serviceto take out.
  • On-Reservation enterprises – As of Tuesday, Aug. 4, the Wildhorse casino will be closed from 12-8 a.m. Additionally, the Wildhorse Cineplex will close July 31. Restaurant services at the casino and golf course will be take-out only. The hotel will continue to be open and the gaming floor will remain open from 8 a.m. until midnight.
  • Mission Market will continue to offer drive-through service only.
  • Arrowhead Travel Plaza will remain open as usual.
  • Access will be limited access to all government buildings. Nixyaawii Governance Center (NGC) services will be provided by appointment only. Employees will work from home unless required to be in the building.
  • Kayak Transit will keep operating to support community in transportation for supplies/groceries, etc.
  • All work travel is limited to a 75-mile radius unless authorized by the Executive or Deputy Executive Director.
  • Exercise, such as short walks or hikes alone or with members of the same household remain allowable and encouraged. Maintain a safe distance from those outside your household. Under the current conditions, CTUIR members should exercise their treaty rights with the same precautions.
  • Updated guidance will be provided at
  • Tribal members who may need services should contact the Department of Children and Family Services at 541-969-8413.The Incident Command Team, which is in charge of the directives, regularly briefs the BOT.
  • The ICT provisions outlined for the BOT also called for Yellowhawk to research the availability of hospital beds. ICT will meet daily on weekdays with regular updates to the Board of Trustees.

Updated guidance will be provided at Tribal members who may need services should contact the Department of Children and Family Services at 541-969-8413.

During their discussion Friday, the Board of Trustees touched on a variety of issues ranging from cluster testing and furloughs at Wildhorse to Zoom broadcast of funerals and enforcement of civil violations.

The Incident Command Team, which is in charge of the directives, regularly briefs the BOT.

On Monday, the ICT is expected to talk to the Board about how closures at Wildhorse could impact the Tribal economy.

Chuck Sams, Deputy Executive Director, said the situation remains fluid, as it has been since the coronavirus pandemic began earlier this year.

“Things may change even by this weekend,” Sams said. “A week ago we had 21 active cases. Fourteen inside a week recovered. Our trend is going down. We’re not near where the County is and more folks are showing negative results. Our restrictions have been much stronger than the county. We’ve restricted access to buildings, required masks and gloves, and we’ve done adequate cleaning. We haven’t seen outbreaks in our organizations, but we have seen outbreaks at gatherings, funerals and celebrations. We can’t explain what’s happening to the county. They are showing 45 percent of the people who don’t know where they got it from. The tracers can’t figure out where it originated. Up until a couple of weeks ago it was occurring at places of work, but now they don’t know.”

Sams told the Board that a map sent out by the County Health Department Thursday showed that a person who gathers among nine others in Umatilla County has an 88 percent chance of contracting COVID-19.

BOT Chair Kat Brigham noted that the Umatilla Indian Reservation has done a relatively good job compared to other places.

“Where Umatilla County is and where we are is quite a difference,” she said. “We’re doing a good job, quite frankly, of keeping things down on the reservation.”

Executive Director Ted Wright said the Umatilla Indian Reservation, according to Yellowhawk numbers, has seven active cases to go with 50 recovered cases.

“We’ve had no new cases since Monday or Tuesday,” Wright said. “We’ve been doing the right things, wearing masks … the people to the west and other places, if only they were we wouldn’t have this situation. But we still have to respond so we will.”

BOT member Jill-Marie Gavin asked about cluster testing at Wildhorse and how it is determined when someone who has tested positive is considered recovered.

Kristi Lapp from Yellowhawk, participated on the Zoom meeting, said cluster testing is coming to an end at Wildhorse and, in fact, the number of tests has dramatically decreased because employees are not volunteering anymore. She said Yellowhawk has the capability to do more cluster testing, but such testing is not planned.

Gavin said testing would give “peace of mind” to employees who are “very nervous about going to work” and “terrified about bringing it home.”

Funerals were discussed extensively with Board members agreeing that the subject is sensitive.

“It’s an extremely delicate issue, but something that needs to be talked about before we send directives,” Sams said.

Gavin said a recent funeral for her uncle was broadcast via Zoom so family members in other communities could observe the services. She wondered if the CTUIR might be able to facilitate that kind of technology to encourage fewer people to attend the in-person mortuary services.