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Delta variant takes toll on tribe

HOLLYWOOD — The Covid-19 Delta variant has officials in overdrive to deal with new cases while encouraging those who haven’t received a vaccine to do so.

The Seminole Tribe’s Health and Human Services (HHS) executive director, Dr. Vandhana Kiswani-Barley, said there’s been a steep incline of those in the tribal community testing positive for the virus in the past several weeks. Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 1,000 have tested positive.

“The Delta variant has done a number on the tribe,” she said. “It’s much more contagious.”

Kiswani-Barley said that in the earlier days of the pandemic when a family member sharing a household with others tested positive, quarantine procedures typically worked well. It’s not always the case with the Delta variant, however. “Almost everyone in the same household has been testing positive,” she said. In addition, she said, hospitals are once again reaching capacity and critically ill people who require oxygen and a ventilator are being prioritized.

“In some ways it’s worse than the beginning of the pandemic because people are so tired of it. What people fail to recognize is that this one (Delta) kills people much faster,” Kiswani-Barley said.

The tribe is offering an incentive for tribal members to receive the vaccine. Those who get a full two shot dose by Oct. 4 will receive $500 and be entered into a raffle for a $1 million grand prize. That means a first dose must be administered by Sept. 5 to allow enough time between shots. The grand prize drawing is scheduled to take place Oct. 5.

While it’s true that the tribe has seen an increase in vaccinations, the number is still far below goals. As of late August about 1,015 tribal members had been vaccinated out of a little more than 3,000 who are eligible – about 34%. The goal of HHS is to have at least 70% of those eligible be vaccinated.

Kiswani-Barley added that while vaccinated people can still catch the Delta variant, the vast majorities are not being hospitalized or dying. Further, she said booster shots would soon be available to those who are in “severely immunocompromised” categories and that eventually booster shots would be offered to the general population. For the general population a booster shot can be administered eight months after a second dose.

Meanwhile, tribal health clinics are open for essential visits only because of the surging numbers. In addition, Kiswani-Barley said clinics would soon administer a Covid-19 antibody treatment through Regeneron Pharmaceuticals for those who are eligible.

“I hope people will get vaccinated,” she said. “It won’t guarantee you won’t get the virus, but it will give you a high probability to survive.”

Tribal members can call their local clinic or the HHS hotline at (833) 786-3458 for more information. Tribal employees can call the hotline for more information as well.

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