“We’re having another potential outbreak,” Public Information Officer James McNeely said of the COVID-19 situation on the Blackfeet Reservation. “It’s hard to say where it came from; it’s been a month since Thanksgiving, and Christmas was just last week.”

McNeely said Incident Command thought it would be possible to move into Phase 2 of reopening up until the latest numbers came out. He said officials are waiting for three consecutive weeks of low numbers to make such a move, and so far that hasn’t happened.

“We’re not out of the woods yet so we need to continue to follow the rules,” he said.

Both Blackfeet Community Hospital and the Southern Piegan Health Center received doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine last week, McNeely said. The 200 doses received by the Indian Health Service in Browning went to frontline health care workers and then began working on elders 75 years old and older. The Southern Piegan Health Center also participated with 100 doses in protecting those most essential and those most at risk.

McNeely stressed that Indian Health Service and Southern Piegan Health Clinic are following the Centers for Disease Control guidelines on distributing the vaccine. There are three initial phases of distribution, labeled Phase 1a through 1c. Phase 1a is for all healthcare workers and residents in nursing homes and long term care facilities. These are being currently addressed, as well as some in the 75-plus age group.

Phase 1b is for essential workers, police, firefighters, food workers, postal workers, teachers and day care workers. People 75 and older are officially part of this phase.

Phase 1c is for people ages 65-74 and also for people with health conditions ages 16-64.  It is also for essential workers such as transportation, communications, media, public health and safety.

With limited supplies of vaccine, movement into further phases of vaccination will depend on availability and distribution.

In another development, Blackfeet Incident Command has extended Ordinance 121 until the end of September 2021. While this may sound extreme, McNeely assured folks that it simply allows the Tribe to continue its Incident Command team and use disaster emergency services. It does not mean a shutdown during the entire time.

The Stay-at-Home Order has been extended until 11:59 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14. Incident Command monitors the numbers and every two weeks evaluates whether to extend or rescind the order, depending on the number of cases recorded. As noted previously, three consecutive weeks of low numbers is what is required to move out of Phase 1.

The issue of reopening the eastern entrances to Glacier National Park is another, separate matter, McNeely said. Discussions are ongoing between the Park Superintendent and the Tribal Council regarding plans for a possible reopening this spring.

In addition to monitoring the Stay-at-Home order every two weeks, McNeely notes Incident Command also reviews Ordinance 121 just as frequently, and if the numbers indicate movement away from the Ordinance may be done safely, that could change as well.

As of 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 30, there were 34 active cases on the Blackfeet Reservation, with 20 being new that day. There were four hospitalizations and 1,238 cases since March 15 with 1,175 recovered since the same date. There have been 42 deaths due to COVID-19 since March 15, with 35 counted on the reservation, two counted in Glacier County, two counted outside of Glacier County and three counted out of state. All were tribal/community members, and 38 deaths have been recorded in the last two-and-a-half months.

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