AG issues slip opinion on face coverings and mandatory vaccinations for ON employees

Photo caption: The WahZhaZhe Health Center conducts a COVID-19 vaccine event in March. CODY HAMMER/Osage News

The Osage Nation Attorney General has issued a slip opinion in response to two questions from Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear on face coverings and vaccinations.

On July 22, Standing Bear asked AG Clint Patterson whether he could make employees wear face coverings, or make them get the COVID-19 vaccine? The short answer to both questions, yes.

According to a 5-page slip opinion issued Thursday, Standing Bear can require face coverings “to condition continued employment,” but mandatory vaccinations have a few stipulations. “Any COVID-19 vaccine mandate adopted by the Nation must comply with the laws of the Osage Nation (and any applicable federal laws), and must permit exemptions for medical reasons and sincerely held religious beliefs. The Nation may not compel employees funded by certain federal grants, compacts, or contracts who have certain medical conditions or sincerely held religious beliefs to obtain the vaccine.”

To be clear, Standing Bear has not issued a directive requiring all employees to wear face coverings or receive the COVID-19 vaccine. In an email, Standing Bear said he and his staff are reviewing the AG opinion as well as a medical opinion. He said on Monday, Aug. 2, he will issue a memorandum.

“The safety of the Osage Nation community remains our highest priority. I am consulting with Wahzhazhe Health Clinic Dr. (Amanda) Bighorse and Osage Nation Attorney General Clint Patterson for guidance,” he said in a statement. “Any Osage Nation health policy updates will be implemented based upon their professional recommendations.”

Cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in the Osage community. Last week, three employees working at the ON Gaming Commission tested positive for COVID-19. This week, that number has grown to six. Some ON employees, who wished to remain anonymous, reached out to the Osage News and said they are scared to go to work because many of their coworkers are not vaccinated. They are also upset that the Standing Bear administration has “repeatedly ignored” their requests for guidance. Dr. Bighorse and Director of Operations Casey Johnson have not responded to continued Osage News requests for comment.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced his administration will require federal employees to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or face strict protocols. This is due to a rise in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths across the US, with most of the severe cases affecting individuals who aren’t vaccinated.

Some Osage lawmakers have discussed ways to incentivize vaccinations among the Osage community, but no clear plan or strategy has been announced.

According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, there are 110 active cases of COVID-19 in Osage County, which is also the boundary of the Osage reservation. The OKSDH also reports that approximately 1.59 million Oklahomans are fully vaccinated, which is roughly 40.1 percent. The last vaccination data published by the WZZHC was on May 31.

On Thursday, the WahZhaZhe Health Center announced on their Facebook page it will go back to screening patients at the front entrance and require a facial covering upon entering the clinic, regardless of vaccination status. The WZZHC is currently offering all COVID-19 vaccines, Monday through Friday by appointment only.

-       Pfizer – 12 and over
-       Moderna – 18 and over
-       Janssen – 18 and over

If you have questions related to COVID-19, the COVID-19 vaccine or scheduling a test, please call (918) 287-0028.