The Southern Ute Indian Tribe embarked on a multi-day COVID-19 testing event this week in an effort to better understand any transmission of the coronavirus in the community.
The tribe, in partnership with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the nonprofit International Medical Relief, offered voluntary testing for about 2,000 people. While the SUIT has taken steps to limit the virus’ transmission since February, this is its first communitywide testing event.
“It is very important for us to know truthfully where we are at right now,” Chris Mimmack, deputy incident commander of the SUIT Incident Management Team, told The Southern Ute Drum. “This will give us a much better idea; a figure to see what we have done to prevent a major outbreak in our community.”
The SUIT expanded the free viral testing, originally intended for tribal members and immediate families, to everyone in the community Thursday because of low turnout. About 300 people had been tested as of Tuesday afternoon. The testing opportunity, at the Sky Ute Casino, will end at 5 p.m. Thursday.
As of Wednesday, about 111,000 deaths had been linked to the virus nationally. In Colorado, 1,312 people had died because of the virus. La Plata County had recorded 84 cases of COVID-19.
As of June 5, the tribe has recorded seven positive cases, among employees of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. The tribe has so far recorded zero cases among the membership itself, according to the Drum.
The Southern Ute reservation spans three counties in Southwest Colorado, including Archuleta, La Plata and a small portion of Montezuma. The tribe has more than 1,500 enrolled members who reside both on and off the reservation.
The viral test will help determine how widespread the virus is, identify hot spots within the community and help keep the community safe, according to a SUIT news release.
Follow-up results will be provided only to individuals who have tested positive. Test results are available within five to seven days. Tribal members who do not hear a response should assume the results of their viral test were negative, the release said.
A team from IMR will be based in Ignacio and provide registration, verification and patient identification validation; obtain patient testing consent; prepare test kits; perform the test swab process; and educate patients about all aspects of COVID-19 prevention and protection, according to an IMR news release.
“The elderly are sacred. They carry cultural and historical knowledge, stories and traditional practices. The tribal youth gain strength from their ancestors,” said Shauna King, president and founder of IMR. “It is IMR’s mission to serve indigenous communities around the world, and as such, it is our duty to protect America’s own natives.”
The tribe still needs more testing kits and personal protective equipment, like face masks, said spokeswoman Lindsay Box.
The tribal council’s stay-at-home order, which urges community members to stay home except for certain essential activities, remains in effect until further notice, according to the SUIT news release.