Oregon’s COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions ended in June, around the time the state reached a 70% vaccination rate for adults. But on September 24, the Confederate Tribes Board of the Umatilla Indian Reservation declared a new public health emergency.
He restored the boundaries of social gatherings – no more than six people from just two households; only the immediate family at the funeral; and limited capacity in restaurants and the casino.
The decision came just six days after the Pendleton Round-Up, when it was clear that a COVID-19 outbreak was underway, sparked by the iconic rodeo.
The Round-Up epidemic is one of the state’s biggest stories. Less notice has been given to its effect on the Umatilla tribes.
The Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center, which provides health care to some 3,000 patients including reserve residents, Alaskan Natives and American Indians from Umatilla and Union counties, saw 123 new cases last week. (The reserve has killed four people since the start of the pandemic and still has a low vaccination rate: only 48% of residents.)
To better understand the dynamics in the northeast corner of the state, WW Aaron Hines, interim CEO of the health center, asked about this COVID-19 outbreak.
WW: Did you expect an epidemic after the rodeo?
Aaron Hines: Prior to the Pendleton Round-Up, we were bracing for a potential uplift, just knowing that the type of high-profile event that draws thousands of people certainly has that strong possibility of being a super-broadcast event.
The same goes for the Whiskey Fest concert that took place in July, as well as many other local fairs and rodeos that took place over the summer. So we did our best to prepare and be ready for a post-Round-Up push.
Should the Pendleton Round-Up have been canceled?
I’ll talk about what the tribe approved. They issued a statement encouraging people to stay home. But we still had a lot of participation in the event.
Governor Kate Brown has placed the blame on individuals since vaccinations became plentiful. Why declare a public health emergency?
Our community is small here. We all know each other. And so, seeing COVID affect any of us, it affects all of us. And so I think having this close relationship with everyone here, maybe it’s easier for us to say that we need to take the right steps to protect ourselves, our friends, our neighbors, our family or our community. because it is devastating. The four losses we suffered had a huge impact on our community.
Is the worst of the Round-Up epidemic over for the clinic?
We believe we are at our peak after this increase and we are in decline, but we will continue to monitor our number of cases on a daily basis.
Why are more of your patients not vaccinated?
We have a lot of people who have concerns about the vaccine. And so we try to make sure that we are giving out the right information and the right education about the vaccine and why it is beneficial and why it can help. Like most of the rest of the country, we are trying to fight fake news about the vaccine.