Government , Health

Wah-Zha-Zhi Health Center establishes task force to minimize risk of Coronavirus

The novel coronavirus has made its way to northeastern Oklahoma.

On March 6, officials with the Tulsa County Health Department and the Oklahoma Health Department confirmed the state’s first case of COVID-19.

The man in question is a Tulsa County resident who recently traveled to Italy, which has about 9,100 confirmed cases of the virus as of March 10. He returned to Tulsa on Feb. 23 via Tulsa International Airport and did not start showing any symptoms until Feb. 29. He is under home quarantine, as are the members of his immediate family.

A second case was confirmed by the Tulsa County Health Department on March 10. A woman in her mid-20s, she also traveled to Italy but has no known connections to the other confirmed case. The University of Tulsa has since gone to online classes only through April 5, as she is an immediate family member of a current student.

Common symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath and fever. They can appear anywhere from two to 14 days after initial exposure. No vaccines are available at this time. As of March 8, 78 state and local public health labs across all 50 states now have the capacity to test up to 75,000 people for COVID-19. 

Internationally, public health officials are still learning more about the virus daily. That learning curve includes more specifics as to who is at an elevated risk and how it is spread other than close contact with an infected person or respiratory droplets sprayed when an infected person coughs or sneezes.  

“The most important thing that we can do as Tulsans is to focus on what we can control,” Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum said. “That is preventing infection, not just for this, but for any number of respiratory viruses.

“That means washing hands frequently. If we are sick, we should stay home. Don’t try to tough it out and go to work and make everyone else sick. Just stay home.”

As part of an $8.3 billion supplemental appropriation to address the outbreak, $40 million has been earmarked for tribes, urban Indian organizations and Indian Health Services.

Osage Task Force

Citing concerns about spreading the virus via travel, the executive committee for the United Indian Tribes of Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas canceled the organization’s spring quarterly meeting scheduled for March 19 in Wyandotte, Oklahoma. A handful of tribes nationally are restricting government-funded travel to states with confirmed cases, including the Osage.

“Per an Emergency Management meeting in conjunction with the County Health Department and the Wah-Zha-Zhe Health Center, it has been determined to limit travel out of state, especially to those states most affected by the Coronavirus,” wrote Director of Operations Christian Johnson in a March 2 email to ON employees. “If your travel is not a requirement of your federal funding agreement, there is no need to travel … This is a precautionary measure meant to protect our employees.”

Should the virus make its way across the county line, the Wah-Zha-Zhi Health Center in Pawhuska has established a task force to minimize the risk of further spread. A risk assessment protocol is being developed and steps are being taken to make sure the clinic’s isolation room meets quarantine standards. The health center’s Facebook page will post regular updates for its patients and community.

Additionally, just hours before the first Oklahoma case was confirmed, Osage Minerals Council Chairman Everett Waller asked the rest of the council to temporarily refrain from out of state government-related travel.

“The California tribes have gone to a state of emergency,” he said. “We need to be serious about this.”

20 seconds

To help minimize the spread of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend hand washing for at least 20 seconds after using the bathroom, touching one’s face or sneezing. Twenty seconds is roughly the length of time needed to sing “Happy Birthday” twice or one time through the choruses of the following songs:

“Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi
“Jolene” by Dolly Parton
“Africa” by Toto and covered in 2018 by Weezer
“Mr. Brightside” by The Killers
“Stayin’ Alive” by the BeeGees
“Thriller” by Michael Jackson