The Ute Mountain Tribe Council has tightened community restrictions in response to an increase in COVID-19 cases on the reservation.
Last week, the tribal council increased its emergency status to the Red, Critical Stage – the highest of four levels – for the Towaoc and White Mesa reservation communities.
As a result, the tribe has returned to a stay-at-home order for residents, and the curfew has been tightened to the hours of 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Facial masks are required at all times, travel is restricted with within a 25-mile radius, 6-foot social distancing remains in effect, and gatherings are limited to 10 people. Travel is allowed only to obtain essential supplies and for medical appointments.
Essential staff will continue to work full time, and government will close by 50%, according to the new order. The Ute Mountain Recreation Center is closed to the public until further notice.
The Ute Mountain Education Center will be limited to five students at a time. The Ute Mountain Casino operations have dropped from 30% to 25% operation capacity.
Access to Ute Mountain Ute tribal lands has been highly restricted, and checkpoints remain in place. Variances to access tribal lands can be granted for some visitors, contractors, and tribal state and federal employees.
Under the previous Orange, Less Critical Stage, the curfew was 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., travel was restricted to 50 miles, gatherings were limited to 15 people, and government was 100% open.
Tribal Chairman Manuel Heart said a spike in cases on the reservation triggered the emergency status.
As of Oct. 16, the tribe had a total of 67 total confirmed cases, up from 50 cases a few days earlier, an increase of 34%. From Oct. 13-16, the tribe reported 17 new positive cases of COVID-19 in the community, mostly in the Towaoc area, but also in the White Mesa, Utah, community.
Infected individuals are ordered to isolate at home, and at least 34 people are under quarantine at home because they might have been in contact with an infected person.
“This is very serious for our community and is why we are moving into Red status,” Heart said in a community announcement. “It is for our members’ safety, especially the ones that are vulnerable to catch the virus.”
A likely cause of the spike is that community members are not taking the disease seriously, he said, such as traveling outside the allowed radius and refusing to quarantine when required.
“The virus will kill someone in our community if people continue to do what they are not supposed to do, and not take this seriously,” Heart said.
Vice Chair Selwyn Whiteskunk urged community cooperation.
“Cases are increasing in our community, and we encourage tribal members to practice to safe measures,” including staying at home, wearing masks, avoiding gatherings, washing hands and social distancing.
COVID-19 testing is available Oct. 22 from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in front of the recreation center in Towaoc. Testing is also available via referral from Indian Health Services behind the recreation center on Mondays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.