The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation reported Wednesday that 683 people have tested positive for the new coronavirus through Indian Health Services.
That’s a jump of 25 new cases from Friday, and more than 100 new cases since July 3.
The numbers reflect testing for those who are eligible for Indian Health Services and are not a comprehensive indicator of the virus’s impact on Indian Country.
But given the Nation’s approximate 11,000 members, the case counts also mean at least 6% of tribal members have been impacted.
Seven people are hospitalized, with three on ventilators. Twenty-eight people have died, an increase of nine people since last Friday, as reported by the Yakama Service Unit of Indian Health Services in Toppenish.
“Our greatest sadness at this time comes from the 28 deaths caused in our community,” Tribal Chairman Delano Saluskin said Wednesday.
The Yakama Nation’s cultural values, traditions and ceremonies typically bring the community together around a family suffering a loss. But the Nation has decided to postpone such gatherings.
“We know at this time that gatherings will increase the spread of the virus and only result in more loss,” Saluskin said.
The Yakama Nation spans almost 2,200 square miles, about 31 square miles of which is owned by non-Native private landowners.
The agricultural location and the “checkerboard” of ownership have created unique challenges for the Nation’s response to COVID-19. Although the Nation’s March “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order remains in effect, many of the Nation’s residents are essential workers. And the land ownership pattern can complicate enforcement.
Despite directives to avoid gatherings, a rodeo with more than 10 people present took place last week, Saluskin said.
The Nation has been mailing newsletters with COVID-related news to all members, hosting weekly food distributions, and coordinating ways to reach members who can’t drive to those sites with food, hygiene products, and over-the-counter medications.
But the Nation hasn’t had to face the pandemic alone.
The COVID team thanked Washington State Emergency Operations and Yakima County Emergency Management for supplies and the Washington National Guard for operating testing sites open to the public.
The state Department of Commerce announced Wednesday that $20 million in emergency aid through the federal CARES Act is now available to the 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington, which includes the Yakama Nation, to bolster their response to COVID-19. Each tribe will receive $380,000, according to a news release from the department.
The aid comes on top of $10 million in state emergency funds granted to the tribes in March and April.
The Yakama Nation Homeland Security Facebook page keeps community members in the loop about testing sites.
The tribe’s leadership also emphasizes the importance of wearing masks in public, social distancing and hand washing to help slow the spread. The Nation is in particular need of children’s masks, which have been the most difficult to find.
“We know these simple practices work, and we each need to embrace them as part of our daily routine to protect each other,” Saluskin said.