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Covid-19 cases decline in tribe

HOLLYWOOD — The tribe has entered phase three of reopening after almost two years of pandemic-related restrictions. The tribe made the announcement through a video message by Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. on Feb. 18. The new phase began Feb. 28.

Phase three includes the return of in-person gatherings, however facemasks are still mandated inside facilities and during outdoor events.

Health and Human Services department (HHS) executive director Dr. Vandhara Kiswani-Barley said the loosening of
restrictions comes as positive Covid-19 tests at the tribe have declined. She said the reasons for the decline include the
availability of vaccinations and also what is likely “pandemic fatigue,” wherein fewer people are choosing to be tested.

On the heels of the Omicron variant, Kiswani-Barley said there’s no doubt that other variants will surface.

“We’re just in much better shape now than when we started,” she said. “We have more resources to treat people as an
outpatient than before, rather than going to a hospital to be treated.”

Beginning Feb. 28, vaccinations will be administered by HHS pharmacy or clinic staff, instead of Emergency Management personnel. Emergency Management had been administering vaccinations because there was a higher demand, Kiswani-Barley said. But now the average is about 10 shots per week.

Covid-19 testing will be done inside the tribe’s health clinics with a 24-hour turnaround for results, she said. The tribe
was previously operating drive-thru testing when demand was higher. Kiswani-Barley said HHS is administering booster shots as well, however, it’s not time for a second booster just yet.

“But we’re expecting it to happen. It will likely end up being a routine shot similar to a flu shot,” she said.

Kiswani-Barley said HHS would continue to evaluate the situation to see when, perhaps, the outdoor mask mandate
might be updated. In the meantime, clinics are distributing free N95 masks to tribal members, what Kiswani-Barley said is the most protective mask available. In addition, pharmacy staff have begun to offer free Covid-19 home testing kits – four per tribal member, per month.

“There needs to be some level of personal accountability. We’re trying to get back to a sense of normalcy,” Kiswani-
Barley said. “If you’re sick, don’t come to any gathering. If you have symptoms, stay away. This is the only way we can return to some level of normalcy.”

For more information, tribal members can call their local clinic or the HHS hotline at (833) 786-3458.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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