County eyes COVID-19 policy change; Osage Nation takes action

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

The chairman of Osage County’s Board of County Commissioners last week indicated he would be in favor of a policy change if COVID-19 infection numbers in the county continued to rise.

“If it keeps going up, we’re going to have to do something again,” District 3 Commissioner Darren McKinney said in an Aug. 2 meeting. McKinney is the current board chairman. That responsibility typically changes on an annual basis.

McKinney said he believed the new case numbers that Emergency Management Director Jerry Roberts provided were probably reflective of only a portion of the real case increase.

He also mentioned a county employee who, along with a family member, recently had COVID-19 for six days.

Roberts mentioned 40 new cases for the previous week, with half of them in Skiatook. Roberts said the wave of COVID-19 transmission that is ongoing had resulted in new cases in all of Osage County’s municipalities. He also said the use of face masks in Osage County courtrooms had resumed.

Roberts said the county might need to determine the point at which it would consider instituting some form of restrictive guidelines for admittance to county buildings. He did not suggest a specific number of new cases as a trigger point, and commissioners did not determine one in their Aug. 2 discussion.

District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones described the COVID-19 increase as “something we’ve really, really got to watch.”

“We tend to let our guard down,” Jones said. “We really have to watch ourselves, where we are and everything.”

Jones said he didn’t think the current wave of infections seemed as severe as the earlier spread of COVID-19. Jones said the severity of the infections, and possible deaths, are issues of importance to him.

Jones also said the commissioners could hold a special meeting at some point, if needed, to address the county’s COVID-19 response policy.

Nona Roach, administrative assistant for the Osage County Industrial Trust Authority, told the commissioners they may not be seeing numbers on all the new COVID-19 cases, but the illness is spreading.

County officials added that the local health department has taken steps to make tests and vaccination shots more easily available.

A question arose during the discussion about whether county officials are pushing hard enough to get the word out about the importance of being vaccinated.

Roberts pointed out it has been more than a year since the COVID-19 crisis began and people are generally aware of resources available to them to try to avoid the illness or detect it.

McKinney said he thought that things had come down to a matter of some people being interested in receiving a vaccination, and others being resistant to the idea.

“In my opinion, it’s been that way for a while,” he said.

The Osage Nation, meanwhile, implemented a detailed policy last week to address the current spread of COVID-19.

Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear issued an executive memorandum Aug. 2, requiring all Osage Nation employees to begin reporting to work with face masks as of 8 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 4. The chief’s memorandum specified that masks would be required for all employees and all visitors to Osage Nation facilities, regardless of their vaccination status.

Standing Bear stopped short of requiring employees to be vaccinated, but held out that possibility as a potential future measure.

The chief’s memo added that all staff and visitors at the Wah-Zha-Zhi Health Center will be required to wear surgical masks. Masks will be provided at the door to persons who do not have one. The tribal health center is doing COVID-19 testing daily, Monday through Friday.

The chief additionally mandated physical distancing of at least 6 feet, regular hand-washing, and mandatory testing for anyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19.

As an incentive for receiving a vaccination, the chief decided to grant an extra PTO day to employees who provide the Osage Nation with proof of vaccination.