Reservation COVID-19 cases climb to 169

By the CUJ

MISSION – COVID-19 is not going away.

On Nov. 30, Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center recorded an all-time high with 10 positive cases, bringing the total number of positive cases to 169 on the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

In November, Yellowhawk performed 364 tests with 65 returning positive for the coronavirus. That’s an 18 percent positivity rate for November, which included a 21 percent positivity rate in the last two weeks of the month.

The report for Tuesday, Dec. 1, listed those 10 positive cases out of 16 tests performed the day before.
All total, Yellowhawk has completed 2,029 tests with 169 positive and 1,860 negative.

The most recent spike does not yet include people who may have been exposed on the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

“We can’t say these cases can be attributed to any Thanksgiving gathering yet,” said Carrie Sampson-Samuels, Community Wellness Director at Yellowhawk.
“People need to stop gathering,” said Carrie Sampson-Samuels at Yellowhawk. “We’re mostly seeing cases rise within immediate households more than we’re seeing isolated cases.”

The bottom line, Sampson-Samuels said, “If you want to keep your family safe then you need to be safe.”

On a positive note, the COVID-19 vaccine is coming.
Sampson-Samuels said Yellowhawk is making plans for distribution. The people who will get the vaccine first are health care workers and people at long-term care facilities.
Sampson-Samuels said Yellowhawk also has a list of elders that will be high on the list.

“It’s coming and quicker than we thought,” she said, noting that new staff will be hired to manage the vaccination process.

Meanwhile, Yellowhawk is swamped.

“The impact on the clinic has been that our operations really had to shift and focus on COVID more than we’d like to,” Sampson-Samuels said. “We understand there is still chronic disease in the community and other ailments that need to be addressed. Unfortunately, we are tasked with handling COVID at the same time we’re trying to monitor our cancer patients, our chronic disease patients…”

Through all this, Yellowhawk’s Community Health Nurses are shifting to contact tracing. On any given day Yellowhawk has 10-15 contact tracers with at least five on weekends.

“We’re contact tracing every day, even holidays, with two community health nurses working alternating weekends,” Sampson-Samuels said.

Staff has “taken a pause” on some duties and assignments, shifting to contact tracing.

“It’s stretched us thin,” Sampson-Samuels said.
What doesn’t help is the fact many people aren’t following quarantine orders.

“We’ve seen people out in the community putting others at risk. Are they not taking this seriously or do they not understand the importance of quarantining?” Sampson-Samuels asked.

Even with a mask, it’s possible for COVID-positive individuals to infect others.

“It is getting taxing for staff who work Monday through Sunday, holidays and late hours to see people are still not following the guidance. The community needs to be diligent,” Sampson-Samuels said.