The Osage Nation Health Authority Board voted 3-0 to lift the tribe’s mask mandate on campus but left it in place at the WahZhaZhe Health Center and recommended that people at risk should continue to wear them.
Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear had asked the board to make the recommendation, noting that usually he has relied on the advice of the WZZHC’s chief medical officer.
Health Board Chair Cindra Shangreau was the only member who expressed hesitation about lifting the mandate, noting that the Centers for Disease Control still recommended masks for communities with a high risk of transmission of Covid-19 – and Osage County remains in that category despite the fact that cases have dropped dramatically since January.
“I know that Chief was hoping to lift the mask mandate, however since Osage County is still deemed high risk by the CDC, I think that would be questionable,” Shangreau said.
Clinic manager Kirk Shaw said that since Jan. 1, the WZZHC has administered 1,033 Covid tests and had 247 people test positive for Covid, a 24 percent positivity rate. However, the vast majority of those cases occurred in January; just 98 tests were administered in February, when 21 people were positive.
Board members Tim Shadlow and Cecelia Tallchief both said that they were in full support of lifting the mandate, which required employees and visitors to wear masks when indoors and within six feet of another person.
After some tinkering with the motion to lift the mandate, the board voted 3-0 to do so with the provision that masks are still required at the WZZHC and that, if the clinic should observe a surge in cases, the board would revisit the issue.
Four minutes after the board adjourned its meeting, the executive branch sent a memo to all employees announcing the mask requirement was lifted.
In the memo, Director of Operations Casey Johnson added, “masks and social distancing are still recommended.”