Osage Nation aims for June 15 reopening after COVID-19 scare

Robert Smith

The Osage Nation was scheduled to test employees for COVID-19 on Monday and Tuesday of this week, preparatory to attempting a broad reopening of its official functions by June 15.

The ON said its police department, wildland fire service, and emergency management department remained fully operational. Its elder nutrition service would be providing food only through a curbside service, the ON said. Other functions, such as fitness centers, the visitors center, the museum, Head Start, the Osage language immersion school, and the tribal archives would all be closed until June 15, the ON said online.

“Most Osage Nation offices continue to be closed to the public and most employees are working from home until June 15,” the ON said online.

The ON shut down some of its functions following the discovery June 2 that several of its employees had tested positive for the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

The tribe initially issued an immediate closure order on the morning of June 3 for much of its governmental structure, until further notice. By the evening of June 3, the Osage News reported that a decision had been taken to reopen government offices Thursday, June 4, with essential personnel only.

According to a press release from Dr. Ronald Shaw, CEO of Osage Nation Health Services, which was published online by the Osage Office of the Chiefs, six new COVID-19 cases, all involving ON employees, were identified Tuesday, June 2, at the Wah-Zha-Zhe Health Center. The release explained that at least one ON employee who tested positive for COVID-19 had attended a funeral and an outdoor election candidate event. The ON had just held congressional elections, and persons interested in the outcome of those elections had socialized together.

The Osage Nation’s concern last week about possible transmission of COVID-19 caused considerable public anxiety, with some persons questioning online if the full extent of the outbreak was being reported. Much higher, but unconfirmed COVID-19 case numbers were being shared.

Additionally, the Wah-Zha-Zhe Health Center said Tuesday afternoon, June 2, on Facebook that its COVID-19 hotline was “flooded” with calls.

Osage County officials remained in a state of watchfulness June 3 for the possible spread of the novel coronavirus, with visitors to the county courthouse in Pawhuska being screened in accordance with guidelines hammered out last month.

Routine screening continued this week, and county commissionners left in place Monday the guidelines they and other county officials developed for managing the flow of visitors to county government buildings.

Jerry Roberts, director of Emergency Management for the county, said last week he had been in touch with Bobby Tallchief, his counterpart with the Osage Nation.

COVID-19 antibody testing was scheduled to be offered to Osage County employees at a mobile health unit Monday and Tuesday of this week, June 8-9.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health’s situation report on COVID-19 for June 8 showed 102 positive tests from Osage County since the beginning of the pandemic. That was an increase of about a half-dozen cases in a week. Figures made public June 8 for cities showed an upward bump in cases for Hominy, with 15 positive tests listed, and nine of those patients having recovered.