CTUIR sees big surge in COVID cases

Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center deals with 323 positives as staff band together during shortage


MISSION – One of the biggest coronavirus case spikes of the entire COVID-19 pandemic hit the CTUIR in January. After dealing with just nine cases in November and 65 in December, a total of 323 positives were documented as of Jan. 27. “This wave has been one of the largest,” Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center CEO Aaron Hines said. “We
cannot let our guards down completely and we must stay diligent in using precautions like getting vaccinated and/or boosted, wearing masks properly, washing and sanitizing hands, keeping distance and staying home when not well. “Our staff were hit fairly hard with staff shortages and are continuing to be short staffed, however not having to contract trace every single close contact of a positive case has taken a large case load off of our COVID-19 specific staff.” CTUIR Executive Director Don Sampson extended current COVID-19 safety precautions through Feb. 11. The measure strongly encourages employees to work from home. The decision was “Due to the continued elevated number of COVID-19 cases on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Umatilla County and our surrounding communities,” Sampson said in a Jan. 31 Tribal press release. Furthermore, employees with symptoms will be asked to leave Tribal facilities; in-person meetings are prohibited; entry into government facilitates is by appointment only; and community events are to be canceled. “Please note that both Yellowhawk and the CDC recommend, if possible, to wear a N95, KN95 or three-ply mask for the best protection and to best limit the transmission of COVID-19,” Sampson said in the release. Hines noted Yellowhawk was prepared for such an increase. Hines noted Yellowhawk was prepared for such an increase. “Our staff are very professional and fluent in dealing with the spikes in COVID-19 cases at this point,” he said. “We really appreciate the access to Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and their partnership – it truly helps when we are able to request staff from OHA for testing or administering vaccines, it takes a huge stress off of our staff and allows them to support the positive patients.” At its height, there were 158 active cases reported on Jan. 10. As the month progressed, however, the number trended down. A Jan. 28 Facebook update by Yellowhawk stated there were 11 new cases with 57 total. “We have seen a decline in total cases, but due to the new variant and how contagious it is, we are anticipating numbers to stay steady,” he said. “We are hoping not to have huge waves as
long as our community continues their efforts in getting vaccinated or boosted, wearing masks properly, washing and sanitizing hands, keeping distance and staying home when not well.” A new method of reporting cases to the OHA was incorporated in Yellowhawk’s response to the virus. Hines urged community members to tell the local health center if they’ve tested positive. “The way we report positive cases and numbers changed with the new OHA reporting guidelines. If folks are not testing at our clinic, unfortunately, they don’t have to tell us if they tested positive (although we do urge our community members to do so),” he said. “Oregonians can report directly to OHA now but when testing through Yellowhawk, our staff are still calling all of the positive cases and offering education and support the same as before – we are here for our community members.” The vaccination rate on the CTUIR is just over 71 percent, Hines said, as of early January. “It’s good to see that our community is doing their part to help stop the spread of COVID-19,” he said. Hines applauded his staff for their response to the recent wave. “Across the clinic we have been having staff shortages and thankfully we have such a great team, many are cross-trained and able to pitch in and help where we may be lacking,” he said. Around the area, Umatilla County reported its 190th death due to COVID-19 complications in January. Oregon surpassed 6,000 deaths. In mid-January, the Oregon Health Association called the state’s positivity rate “staggering.” As of Jan. 31, however, cases statewide declined by 22 percent over the course of a week. Brad Schmidt of The Oregonian wrote the numbers were “the clearest evidence yet that the highly transmissible omicron variant is receding.” The Oregon Health and Science University estimates a full decline will begin in early February.