WHITERIVER — Coming out of curfew at 5 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 27, the White Mountain Apache Tribe entered into Phase One of their Revised Phase Reopening Plan which was approved by the Tribal Council on Dec. 1.
The Dec. 1 council resolution also included a revised funeral arrangement and services policy; tailgate vendors guidelines; a recommendation that a vendor area be designated between the Whiteriver Restaurant and Game and Fish Department, and a prohibition on vending between H-Market and the Tribe’s Personnel Department.
A 72-hour shelter-in-place lockdown was implemented by the White Mountain Apache Tribe (WMAT) on Dec. 4 after 40 new COVID-19 cases were diagnosed over a three-day period. Then, when 77 new cases were diagnosed over a five-day period, the Tribe extended the lockdown to Saturday, Dec. 12 at 8 p.m., followed by a 2-week shelter-in-place set to expire on Dec. 26, at 8 p.m. As the shelter-in-place ended at 8 p.m., a curfew immediately went into effect until Sunday, Dec. 27 at 5 a.m.
A shelter-in-place requires Tribal members to be at home, in their residences or in their yards. No family gatherings are allowed. Members may go to and from work and must have an ID badge, work schedule and letter from their supervisor in their possession. Members are also allowed to leave their residences to obtain medical services.
The Revised Phase One currently in effect:
- Restrict workforce to Emergency Employees Only
- Tribal departments and organizations may resume maintenance work
- Tribal departments and organizations may resume outdoor work
- Tribal departments and organizations may resume construction work
- Tribal department and organizations open to the public by appointment only which means by telephone or virtually as identified in policy
- All tribal department and organization supervisors, coordinators and directors must report back to work, including those deemed non-emergency
- Tribal member fishing allowed according to current ordinances
- Tribal member hunting allowed, including antlers, according to current ordinances
- Woodcutting allowed if no red flag warnings, according to current ordinances
- Reservation curfew remains at 8 p.m.
There are four phases — emergency, phase one, phase two and phase three. Each successive phase may be entered after a minimum 14-days of downward trajectory or stable low counts of COVID-19 cases without activation of a Shelter-in-Place order. The Reopening Plan requires the automatic reinstatement of the Emergency Phase should a Shelter-in-Place Order be activated at any time during the reopening process based upon the newly adopted COVID-19 Shelter-in-Place Activation System. The Reopening Plan requires that the existing curfew and all precautionary measures remain in place throughout each phase of the Plan, including but not limited to: social distancing of six feet apart; mask wearing; wiping down commonly used areas; and frequent handwashing.
Joining Chairwoman Gwendena Lee-Gatewood on her Saturday, Dec. 26 Facebook broadcast to explain Phase One, lockdown and restrictions was White Mountain Apache Tribe Emergency Operations Center Policy Unit Coordinator Derrick Leslie.
Leslie said many Tribal members are asking questions as to the reasons certain restrictions are being imposed. He said one of the big questions that comes up is about church services, He said that church services are not allowed until the Tribe goes into Phase Two.
“The reason we are doing all of this is for the safety and wellbeing for all our people,” said Leslie,” adding that each department has an individual safety plan in place which the EOC has reviewed.
Leslie said that anytime there are 34 to 43 new COVID-19 cases in three consecutive days there will be a 72-hour lockdown and then a five day and then a shelter-in-place. The alert system has been set up so that when numbers rise, chaos can be averted and more lives are not lost.
“This is being done because of our numbers,” said Leslie. “It is not the EOC or Tribal Council who determines the numbers. Yes, we have established thresholds, but it comes down to community and individual responsibility.”
“Our Incident Commander reminds us that the alert system as it is set up, and our case count and mortality rate – that’s the number of people who have died relative to our total tested and our total positive — is really low for our high incidence rates of COVID-19. We get a lot of questions from our state and federal government and from other tribes and jurisdictions asking us how we are able to keep our mortality numbers so low,” said Leslie.
Leslie credits the Tribe’s low mortality rate, and the minimizing and slowing down of the spread, to the collaborative efforts of Indian Health Service, the Emergency Operations Center and the Tribal Council all working together, including what he considers their biggest asset — John Hopkins Center for American Health.
Responding to many who are asking why the Tribe is enacting certain protocols when others outside the reservation are not, Lee-Gatewood said WMAT is a sovereign nation.
“We are doing things as a tribe, and we are one big family” said Lee-Gatewood. “We want our family to be safe and to know the protocols that need to happen and why they need to happen. We have been doing this every day since March to now, especially protecting our elders — there are just a few hundred now over 80. They are our wisdom keepers. They know our culture. In the not so distant past they slept in wikiups. They slept on the floor. We don’t have many of that — to hear first hand of how they lived. We want to protect them and our children. So we are doing our best and we want you to do your best.”
Lee-Gatewood reminded everyone that the Tribe is now going into Phase One where they have been before. The first time was Aug. 10. She also recalled when the number of cases finally reached 11, and now the numbers are back up. She said should the numbers keep rising, another lockdown is imminent.