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Still masks, but HHS expands focus

HOLLYWOOD – Even though positive Covid-19 cases have recently decreased, the head of the tribe’s Health and Human Services (HHS) department, Dr. Vandhana Kiswani-Barley, said the virus and other airborne illnesses aren’t going away anytime soon – one of the reasons a mask requirement is still in place.

The tribe entered its phase three of reopening Feb. 28, allowing a return to offices and facilities as well as in-person gatherings, but with the use of masks.

“Masks will remain in place to ensure the safety of the community,” Kiswani-Barley said March 23. “While everyone outside of the tribe has lifted it, we’re small and more vulnerable than the regular population.”

She said the mask requirement would likely be reevaluated in a couple months.

Dr. Vandhana Kiswani-Barley. (File photo)

In addition, the tribe is still administering the Covid-19 vaccine and booster shot. Kiswani-Barley said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not yet greenlighted a second booster shot, however.

While the tribe’s health officials still have an eye out for future waves of Covid-19, the recent decrease in activity has allowed more time to focus on other medical concerns like diabetes and high blood pressure among tribal members.

Kiswani-Barley said HHS is organizing tribalwide wellness days for each reservation that operates a health clinic – Hollywood, Big Cypress, Brighton and Immokalee. The first is planned for mid-April and will be geared for tribal members age 40 and older.

“It will be a one-stop shop to see a nutritionist, have blood drawn for lab work – a thorough exam for each member – almost like an annual exam,” she said.

A wellness day with a focus on tribal members under 40 will be scheduled later, she added.

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

Mobile HHS units

Meanwhile, the tribe is in the process of acquiring four mobile medical units to be used in Hollywood, Big Cypress, Brighton and Immokalee. Kiswani-Barley said the vehicles are about the size of a shuttle bus and will initially be used for Covid-19 testing and evaluation and vaccine distribution.

“It’s a way to see patients outside the clinic setting in a parking lot or a car instead of in a patient room,” she said.

Each unit, to be purchased through grant money, has two compact exam areas, a lab and a bathroom. Kiswani-Barley said the goal is to have the mobile units up and running sometime this summer.

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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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