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Cherokee logs first COVID-19 case

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians received notice of its first confirmed positive case of COVID-19 on Friday, March 27.

The individual is a part-time resident of the Qualla Boundary, so the case will not be counted as a North Carolina case. The person has been in isolation at their residence on the Qualla Boundary since the onset of symptoms and will continue to stay there.

The EBCI Public Health and Human Services Division is working with other health and emergency officials to identify close contacts of the person. These people will be asked to closely monitor their health and stay at home as much as possible.

The announcement came on the heels of a March 25 curfew order that Principal Chief Richard Sneed issued in hopes of preventing spread of the virus on Cherokee lands. Following disclosure of the positive case March 27, Sneed announced an addendum to that order. A previous executive order had closed the Qualla Boundary’s borders to non-citizens and non-residents, with some narrow exceptions offered, and it had closed all roads entering tribal lands save for U.S. 441 and U.S. 19. On Friday, Sneed announced that U.S. 441 would be the only viable entrance between the curfew hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.; the U.S. 19 entrances will be closed at that time.

Executive Order 8 imposes a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. People who are present on Cherokee trust lands during that time should stay home if possible, and everyone is prohibited from being out in public except to conduct essential activities like going to and from work or ensuring one’s health and safety. The order does not apply to tribal employees performing job-related duties. The order also authorizes officers in the Cherokee Indian Police Department to disperse any crowd of more than 10 people from any public place.

Anyone violating the order can be prosecuted under Sec. 166-15 of tribal code, which deals with states of emergency. The law states that violating any prohibition or restriction imposed by a proclamation authorized under the article is punishable by up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine.

“It is my intent that this curfew be tailored to the needs of our community,” Sneed wrote in the order. “Therefore, it may be amended in the future as circumstances require.”

Other executive orders have shut down all non-critical tribal operations and offices for two weeks; ordered all restaurant dining rooms and non-essential businesses closed; issued a stay-at-home order to all residents and prohibited gatherings of 10 or more people. A previous order closing many public spaces such as trails, playgrounds and picnic areas remains in effect, but as of March 25 Fire Mountain Trails, Oconaluftee Islands Park, Soco Falls and Mingo Falls are no longer included in the closure. People using these areas are asked to observe social distancing and safety protocols.

Sneed has also ordered Food Lion to limit purchases of meat, sanitizing products and paper products to two per customer and to dedicate the 7 to 8 a.m. shopping hour to people ages 59 and older. The store may only open between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

The stakes are high for preventing COVID-19 community spread in Cherokee. The Cherokee Indian Hospital does not have any ICU beds or ventilators to care for coronavirus patients, so it would have to rely on assistance from other hospitals should local cases occur.

Schools have been closed since March 16. On March 18, Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos began a two-week closure, the first ever in its 23-year history, and that closure has been extended for an additional two weeks. The casinos in Cherokee and Murphy supply the lion’s share of revenue for the tribal budget and also provide twice-yearly per capita payments to tribal members. 

A list of COVID-19-related news items is available at www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/28726.

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