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Seminole Tribe lifts mask mandate

The use of masks is now optional at the Seminole Tribe. (Image via Facebook)

HOLLYWOOD – The Seminole Tribe lifted its mask mandate after more than two years of having it in place during the Covid-19 pandemic. Health and Human Services (HHS) executive director, Dr. Vandhana Kiswani-Barley, announced the change in an April 19 video sent to the tribal community via email.

“As you know, we’ve had a rough two years – we’ve had upward trends of numbers, downward trends of numbers, and we’ve lost too many lives,” she said in the video message.

Kiswani-Barley said part of the rationale behind making masks optional is that the tribe had achieved a positivity rate of less than 5% for the previous two and a half months – which she said was “fantastic.”

The tribe entered a phase three of reopening Feb. 28 that allowed for in-person gatherings, but with the mask mandate still in place.

Kiswani-Barley stressed in the video message that lifting the mandate didn’t mean masks were never meant to be worn, and that it didn’t change quarantine and isolation guidelines for those who test positive or have symptoms.

“If you’re around someone that is vulnerable, someone that’s ill, someone who has a low immune system response – the right thing to do is to wear a mask around them,” she said in the video message. “If you’re going to a large gathering or a large function, then the right thing to do is to wear a mask.”

In an email to the Tribune on April 25, Kiswani-Barley said that while the recent low positivity rate is clearly good news, she wants the tribal community to know that Covid-19 “is not going anywhere.”

“It is imperative for the tribal community to assess their risk and wear the mask as they deem appropriate,” she said in the email. “It is important to take into account where they are, who they are around, and their personal health. The onus is on [each] person to assess their personal risk.”

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently approved a second Covid-19 booster shot for those 50 years or older and for those who are immunocompromised. Kiswani-Barley said tribal members who are interested in receiving one can contact their respective tribal clinics and fill out the necessary forms. Once approved, the booster will be scheduled and administered by pharmacy staff.

In addition, Kiswani-Barley said HHS will continue to perform Covid-19 testing, and tribal pharmacies will continue to distribute home testing kits to tribal members.

New pharmacy feature

HHS also announced that the tribe’s pharmacies are scheduled to launch a new interactive voice response system for prescription refills May 1.

Similar to any non-tribal pharmacy, the feature will allow tribal members to call in prescriptions through a 24-hour refill phone line and then be notified with an expected pick up date and time.

The goal is to reduce pharmacy wait times for tribal members.

“It is important that individuals have the correct phone number [registered] with the clinics,” Kiswani-Barley said in her email.

For more information pertaining to Covid-19 or any other health-related inquiries, tribal members can contact 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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