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Eastern Band Of Cherokee Experience COVID-19 Surge

Courtesy of Principal Chief Richard Sneed
Principal Chief Richard Sneed shared his concern about the COVID-19 surge via a Facebook video on the evening of October 19, 2020.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases. 

Just like the state of North Carolina, the Eastern Band rolled back COVID-19 safety measures and moved to Phase 3 of reopening at the beginning of October.  That’s despite the local health and Human Services reporting a surge in cases beginning in the middle of September. On October 9, all Cherokee Central schools went back to fully virtual learning and later on in the month the tribal offices reduced their hours and services.

Principal Chief Richard Sneed says that the virus is spreading because of family gatherings and other social engagements. He encourages caution in a recent statement.

“These activities where we are close to one another for extended periods of time without masks are where we see extensive spread of COVID-19,” says Sneed.

Last month, there were around 10 active COVID-19 cases in the Eastern Band community.  Now there are over 100.  There have been three deaths associated with COVID-19. Sneed says the Cherokee Indian Hospital  Authority has also identified over 300 direct contacts of those people who could have contracted the virus. Sneed advises those people to get tested:

“If you suspect that you have been exposed to COVID-19, public health officials recommend that you get tested 6-8 days after that exposure,” says Sneed. This amount of time allows the virus to be detected in tests. 

Unlike other health departments in the region, COVID-19 testing and contract tracing by the Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority has been extensive. Sneed says the hospital has now administered over 10,000 COVID-19 tests. However, social distancing measures are still key. Sneed asks that people living on the boundary stay home when they can:

“I know each of you are as concerned about the safety of our elders as I am. I ask for your continued perseverance in following social distancing guidelines and safety measures enacted on the boundary,” says Sneed.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper is expected to decide on updated COVID-19 precautions this week, as the current Phase 3 order expires on Friday.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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