Letter to the Gila River Indian Community from Governor Stephen Roe Lewis
Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis
Gila River Indian Community
I know the past week has been a very stressful week for the Country and in the Community. The coronavirus (COVID-19) has now spread across the country, leading the President to issue a Declaration of Emergency, the World Health Organization to officially list the virus as a pandemic and the Secretary of Health and Human Services to declare a Public Health Emergency.
To date there are NO confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Community. But in Arizona, as of Sunday morning, there are now 152 cases reported – and a second death just reported.
Although there are no confirmed cases in the Community, the Executive and Community Council are meeting regularly to make decisions to safeguard the health, safety and well-being of the Community’s residents. That is why I issued an Emergency Declaration last Friday that restricts gatherings of large numbers of people – first 50 and then revised to 10 to meet the federal guidelines. We also are asking Elders to stay home and avoid gatherings to the extent possible as the virus is affecting Elders and those with underlying conditions more seriously than others.
The Executive and the Community Council have had regular briefings by the COVID-19 Taskforce that is made up of Gila River Health Care and the Office of Emergency Management. We have put a plan in place to emphasize prevention of the virus, while also planning in the unfortunate event a confirmed case is identified in the Community.
Earlier this week, the Executive and Community Council made the difficult decision to close our gaming facilities. This was a very difficult decision because our Community businesses provide funding for a broad range of our governmental programs. But, we decided to close for two weeks to allow time to assess the situation in Arizona and most of all – to make sure our employees are not inadvertently exposed to a patron who may be carrying the virus. We will continuously reassess the situation and make decisions based on the impacts of the virus in Arizona and on our Community.
We are aggressively advocating for resources at the state and federal level to assist the Community during this time with our top goals being providing meals and services to our Elders and any Community members with special needs, and the continuation of governmental services and programs to Community members.
This is an uncertain time. The situation went from one that was being monitored overseas to one that has us being asked to remain separated so we don’t catch or pass the virus to others we come in contact with. The remedies for spread of the virus are foreign to us as Native people – we are told not to gather, to ask our Elders to stay home and not participate in group activities, to not hug and shake hands and not to go directly to the hospital if we feel sick. It feels contrary to how we normally interact with each other.
But we care about each other so we comply with the guidelines in the hope that our actions will prevent a serious outbreak in the Community. Our proximity to a metropolitan area makes it hard to contain all contact off Reservation but we know that taking these actions will ultimately mean we are protecting each other.
We don’t know how long the outbreak threat will last, but we do know some things for certain. We know that the decisions we are making are for the health and safety of the Community. We know that this outbreak is unlike anything we have seen in the past decades, but we also know that our Community has weathered challenges before. We know that as O’otham and Pee Posh people our ancestors have left us a legacy of rising up and pulling together during difficulties and of taking care of each other. We know this crisis will pass eventually and we know we will be a stronger Community on the other side. We will have gratitude for our gatherings and our colleagues and our elder events and for our schools.
For now, please look out for each other and follow the guidance as much as possible. I will continue to update you via video messages, social media, Executive statements, and other means.
Here are several resources you can use during this time:
- COVID-19 Hotline:520-550-6079
- Coronavirus Website: GRHC.org/coronavirus
Prayers for the health and safety of all of our people.