Omicron Variant Creates A COVID-19 Surge for Community Members

Emma Hughes
Gila River Indian News 


The Gila River Indian Community has seen a severe spike in positive COVID-19 cases due to the holiday season and the fast-spreading Omicron variant, which has become the dominant variant since its arrival in the U.S. in Nov. 2021.


As of Jan 17., the GRIC Tribal Health Department data showed 12, 476 positive cases total, including 5,353 cases among people who reside in the Community. 592 positive cases have been reported between Jan. 10-16.


Arizona reported 1,666,191 positive cases, with over 20,000 new cases being reported daily as of Jan. 19. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services.


Maricopa County continues to have the highest number of positive cases in the state, along with Pinal and Pima counties.

Dr. Anthony Santiago, CEO of Gila River Healthcare, provided an update on cases in the Community and information on vaccines and variants during a live stream by Gila River Broadcasting Corp. on Jan 13.


Dr. Santiago explained the effects of Omicron and discussed the state’s healthcare status. Hospital beds in Arizona are filling up and hospital staffing has been stressed due to the continued rise in positive cases – which are expected to continue to increase.


GRHC has been overwhelmed with COVID tests and has made a notice that results will take up to 48-72 hours. Due to the increase, the Community will soon distribute self-testing kits that can be taken anywhere and whether or not you have symptoms.


Cases are up 400% and currently over 35% of tests are coming back positive. Gila River Health Care recently detected its most cases in a single day – 285 positive tests – since the pandemic began in March 2020, according to Dr. Santiago.


Vaccines remain highly effective against COVID and its strains, and 98% effective against being admitted to ICU. They remain highly effective in children, who have become extremely vulnerable to the fast-spreading Omicron variant.


Although Omicron is the fastest spreading variant, it is less severe in those who are vaccinated, but remains severe for those who are not.


Among GRIC enrolled members over age 5, 36 percent have been fully vaccinated. An additional five percent have been partially vaccinated. Full vaccination includes the initial dose followed by a second dose.


A third booster dose is recommended for individuals 18 years and older, five months after your second Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and two months after your second shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.


There is a $500 incentive for eligible GRIC members 18 years and older who are fully vaccinated, payable two weeks after receiving their second dose of their initial COVID vaccine. Deadline for the COVID-19 vaccine incentive is approaching and applications must be postmarked or received by Jan. 31.


Vaccinated GRIC youth 5-17 years old, are also eligible for a $500 incentive. Deadline for minors is April 29.

Both applications can be found online at or at any District Service Center or at the Per Capita Office located in the Governance Center.


GRIC has transitioned back to “Phase I” and reduced the in-person workforce by 75% until Jan. 29, based on the increase of COVID cases in and around the Community. Comprehensive Executive Order No. 13 regarding the coronavirus pandemic was released Jan 14.


Executive Order No. 13 states that face masks are still required within the boundaries of the Community. All employees must be tested, regardless of vaccination status.


Additionally, the order directs that all schools within the Community continue to provide education through virtual classes or remote learning. Schools may reopen in a “hybrid mode” on Feb. 22, subject to the approval of a reopening plan by the Education Standing Committee and Health and Social Standing Committee.


The reopening plan must provide that all staff and students attending are fully vaccinated and provide a negative test five days prior to the start of in-person learning. Surveillance testing must be conducted for all teachers and administrators. Virtual or remote-learning should be made available to non-vaccinated students or parents who choose such learning for their children.