According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Indian and Alaskan Native populations have case rates 3.5 times higher than white individuals. There is one exception, however, the Cherokee Nation. With about 140,000 citizens on its reservation in northeastern Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation has reported just over 4,000 cases and 33 deaths.
At the forefront of their efforts stands Lisa Pivec, senior director of Public Health for Cherokee Nation Health Services.
Pivec leads a team that jumped into action in late February, far before many of our local and state governments took action. Holding coronavirus task force meetings twice a day, screening thousands of employees, stockpiling PPE, protecting elders, ensuring food security, and educating residents in English and Cherokee languages were just some of the tactics she used.
As the CDC or other Global Health Organizations had yet to issue guidelines, Pivec researched the World Health Organization’s Ebola response to set up tracing protocols that modeled theirs. After the first case of COVID 19 appeared on the reservation on March 24, she made many contact tracing calls herself.
Pivec gives much credit to Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., who leads the vast, 14-county reservation larger than Connecticut. Hoskin, who says he is sure masks have saved lives, implemented a mandate requiring Cherokee citizens to wear masks indoors and outdoors when around others. “I admire Dr. Fauci. I feel I have several Dr. Faucis,” Hoskin has told many, referring to Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “We acknowledged early on we should defer to the expertise of our public health staff to let them do what they do best.”
How serious the mask mandate is in the Cherokee Nation was on full display Sept. 30th when U.S. Attorney General William Barr visited Hoskin in the Cherokee Nation capital Tahlequah, just four days after he’d attended, unmasked, the White House Rose Garden ceremony for now-confirmed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
While on Cherokee Nation lands, Barr wore a mask.