Four Northern Arapaho Tribal members died Monday due to COVID-19-related illness. That raises the number of deaths in Wyoming to six.
“Two of the four were precious elders,” Lee Spoonhunter, co-chairman of the Northern Arapaho Business Council, said in a Facebook broadcast Tuesday.
The Wyoming Department of Health described the other two patients as an “adult woman” and an “adult man.” According to WDH, the four patients had been hospitalized and two had health issues that put them at higher risk of serious complications from COVID-19. It did not specify which two.
In the age of COVID, tribal ceremonies are on hold, Spoonhunter said. “We cannot mourn together as a family or tribe, or give our people the traditional Arapaho protocols to help our people heal.”
Spoonhunter called on young people to stay home and follow social distancing measures to protect vulnerable tribal members on the Wind River Reservation. “Many of you continue to discard the safety of our elders by not adhering to these measures and continue to put your elders, your parents and your grandparents at risk,” he said.
In recent weeks the Northern Arapaho Tribe positioned itself at the forefront of robust testing efforts. Wyoming Public Radio reported last week that a Northern Arapaho clinic had conducted more than 20% of the COVID-19 testing in Wyoming.
In a statement, Gov. Mark Gordon acknowledged that Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes “took advanced protective measures, including an aggressive testing strategy.”
“These deaths highlight the insidious nature of the illness,” Gordon said.
The governor said he and Spoonhunter agreed today that the state and tribes “must coordinate our response” to COVID-19.
Issues that plague marginalized communities, such as inadequate housing, place tribal members at greater risk of contracting COVID-19. “Every [tribal housing] unit, I would have to say, is overcrowded,” Hope Tidzump, deputy director of the Eastern Shoshone Tribal Housing Authority, told Wyoming Public Radio in March.
Tribal governments in Wyoming have tried to slow infection rates by enacting stay-at-home orders. (In the absence of a statewide directive, Teton County has also enacted such a measure.)
Statewide, there are 322 confirmed and 119 probable cases of COVID-19. Fremont County, where the Wind River Reservation is located, has 51 confirmed and six probable cases of COVID-19.
According to the latest projection from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Wyoming could see a peak of 21 daily deaths by the beginning of May. However, this model continues to change as researchers input new data.