Under normal circumstances, my message would highlight the achievements of our many talented, artistic and athletic members and future events to be looking forward to, in our communities. These are not normal times, therefore, I must address the uncertainty we are facing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Seneca Nation government has been forced to make some very difficult and unprecedented decisions concerning day to day operations of our departments, as well as our enterprises. These decisions have been thoughtful and we have all taken to heart – the best interest of each and every one of our nation’s members. Above all else, we must put the well-being and safety of our membership before anything.
March 12th and 13th, were days of completely unprecedented events happening in the world – which impacted the Seneca Nation like a whirlwind. When we saw how rapidly COVID-19 incidents were evolving, and how rapidly the virus was spreading, we knew we had to respond swiftly and confidently. We deployed a very capable Incidence Response Task Force, which has been working around the clock to manage manpower and other resources within our government, to protect our communities. Our first course of action was to inventory the numbers of employees we had out on travel; and where they were traveling to and from. In conjunction, we decided to also restrict any travelers or visitors from outside the WNY region from entering our territories. If you have plans to travel outside our local area, we strongly urge that you please re-consider. If you travel outside of our area, and return from a densely populated location, Seneca Nation Health Department recommends you self-quarantine for a minimum of two weeks.
On March 14th, Erie County reported three confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus; while Cattaraugus County had zero confirmed cases. Based on how rapidly the virus had spread throughout the world, and how quickly it reached Erie County, we knew we must take drastic measures to minimize the opportunity for the virus to spread through our communities. The precautionary measure implemented in our workforce reduction, was necessary for us to protect our employees, our communities, while continuing to provide essential services. A portion of our workforce is now working from home, while several hundred employees were placed on Stand-by Leave. We have requested they remain in the area so they can be called back to work, if needed. A portion of our workforce has been temporarily re-assigned to assist wherever they have been needed. In addition, we have taken measures to get information out to our communities, utilizing every media resource available.
By staying strong and working together, each one of us has the power to slow down the spread of this virus, by being mindful of the protocols which have been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
• wash your hands a minimum of 20 seconds thoroughly and often
• do not touch your face, eyes and mouth
• cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and discard immediately
• clean and disinfect your surroundings frequently
• avoid gatherings of more than 10 people
• practice keeping a safe distance of a minimum of 6-feet away from others
• if you are sick, please stay home
• limit any visitors inside your home
• if you have a fever, a cough and shortness of breath, call your health care provider for further guidance
At the time of this writing, the confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus in Erie County was increasing exponentially, each day; yet Cattaraugus County had zero confirmed cases. By now, everyone in our communities should be aware that the first positive COVID-19 case was confirmed within our community on March 19th, 2020, and the Seneca Nation territories are now under a State of Emergency. Social distancing is one of the most practical, sensible and effective protocols to follow, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Therefore, to help reduce the spread of this virus, as much as possible, I am strongly advising our membership to not assemble in groups or gatherings of more than ten people. Also, I would like to discourage any of our members from trying any non FDA-approved experimental therapies to treat this virus, should you become infected. Obviously, that could change if new FDA-approved therapies become available.
I realize this is an extremely difficult time for each member of our nation. I assure you that we are doing everything within our power to put as many protections in place and to mitigate rapid spread of this virus. It is comforting to hear about the grassroots efforts that our community members have established to help those whom are in need of emergency food, cleaning supplies and well checks. Please take advantage of this unprecedented situation to enjoy spending time with your children and loved ones. Take advantage of outdoor activities to pass the time. Please continue to care for one another and check in on elders and your neighbors. Historically, we have withstood many, many devastating challenges – and we are still here, standing firm, to do battle with the COVID-19 virus. We, as Ögwe’ö:weh, are strong, wise and resilient. I have no doubt, by remaining united, with our collective strength and wisdom, we will get through this together.
Rickey L. Armstrong, Sr.