As the Chairman of the Fort Hall Business Council, I am addressing the tribal membership directly to ensure you all that the Tribal Government is taking the necessary measures regarding the COVID-19. We are entering into challenging and difficult times. This new public health crisis is going to dramatically impact the lifestyle and behaviors of our community and I want to explain here more of the difficult decisions that have and will be made in the next few weeks. 

This is not the first pandemic to impact our people. In the early 1900s, influenza killed many of our youth and elders, as reflected in our census records. With today’s education, knowledge and technology, we aim to avoid such devastating impacts from COVID-19.  
Tribal staff have been focused on developing and implementing strategies to ensure sanitary government facilities and reduction of exposure to the virus. Departments and programs are actively working together and following national, regional, state and local trends to ensure accurate, effective and safety recommendations are afforded to our community. The Business Council relies upon our technical staff for recommendations.  

The challenge in this situation is that information is changing daily, and at times, hourly. We all are taking this global pandemic seriously because it will impact our people and communities.  

As of today, March 22, 2020, we no confirmed cases of Tribal members with the Covid-19. For that, I and the Council are very thankful. 

I want to assure you all that we have a plan to implement responsible measures to ensure the protection of the Tribal members and all residents on the Fort Hall Reservation and to reduce and minimize the risk of expose to the coronavirus. The plan was triggered last Friday by the first official confirmed case of an individual who tested positive for COVID-19 within a 25-mile radius of the exterior boundaries of the Fort Hall Reservation. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes is now going into partial tribal government shutdown. Our Tribal Executive Director, Elese Teton, is working directly with Tribal directors to finalize those essential departmental plans on Monday. Full time, part-time, and temporary employees will receive their benefits and salary for two weeks during this time of self-isolation. Further assessments will determine if extensions will be made.  
In the event we get a confirmed case within the interior boundaries of the Fort Hall Reservation, even more restrictive and protective measures will be imposed by the Fort Hall Business Council for the protection of our community. This would include “stay at home” and regular reassessments of Tribal reduced services. The Tribes will notify the tribal residents through the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) ?. Any information will be posted on the Tribes website, 

Regarding the questions of the closures of our Tribal Casino — it has been a challenging and difficult decision on when to close. You may ask why? The Council and Casino Management carefully weigh the outcomes, between the public health of the community versus the long-term tribal government services that will be affected in the future. Comparison of tribal casinos to Las Vegas casino is difficult because private casino industries are for-profit, versus tribal casinos which go directly to needed governmental services. The impact to any revenue will impact Tribal government general fund programs.
The management of the Casino and Hotel is striving to maintain employment as long as possible for casino and hotel staff, rather than letting them go. They will reassign employees to conduct other tasks, within the management’s ability and limitations from the National Indian Gaming regulations. Tribal governmental employees will also be reassigned similarly. 

Our Tribal departments are also changing their procedures to reduce exposure to the virus. It is not intended to offend individual tribal members, if departmental staff, including health care ?professionals, do not have face-to-face interaction.  
Fort Hall Police ? Department, the Tribal Correction Department and the Tribal Courts are also being impacted. The Fort Hall Dispatchers will ask more questions as they take in emergency calls. Please do not be offended, as it is for the protection and safety of both the responding officers, EMS, or firefighters. They provide a crucial government service and if one of them is stricken, it affects a major section of our emergency services. I urge our community be vigilant in protecting your homes and be safe.

For immediate and long-term solutions, the Tribes have been actively lobbying to educate federal policy makers in Washington DC of the tribal impacts to the COVID-19 outbreak. For the first time ever, tribes, intertribal organizations and lobbyists are working cohesively and exhaustively to advocate to congressional lawmakers to include tribes in the three major COVID-19 series of bills. One of the major issues of concern is that federal funding was allocated to the Center of Disease Control (CDC) and to the Indian Health Service; however, there are administrative barriers to overcome and that funding has not yet funneled down to tribes. Congressional pressure to overcome administrative barriers is necessary; with a breakthrough finally occurring last Friday, March 20, with CDC agreeing to develop an interagency agreement for medical resources and funding to IHS. Congress has directed agencies to increase administrative flexibility to provide for citizen’s needs and has directed states to improve access to state-delegated services.  

For example, US Food Distribution Services (Commodities) has waived its income requirements, Medicaid-Idaho has waived co-pays, and unemployment benefits now includes impacts from COVID-19. Additional waivers are likely to occur as federal agencies frantically make changes to their regulations, rules and guidance to increase availability of services. This is a rapidly evolving situation at all federal government levels.
I recognize that there are some mixed messages when it comes to social distancing and tribal ceremonial activities. I encourage our membership to continue to pray because we Newenne are strong, and will survive this. But I encourage people to make the best efforts to avoid large gatherings, and if necessary, ensure everyone is safe by maintaining physical distance during our ceremonies, especially confined spaces.  

We must learn from our previous experience with pandemic diseases. The power of individual and family prayers ??is significant and necessary to maintain our state of mind and healthy bodies. We must remain strong ✊?

~Respectfully your Tribal Chairman Ladd Edmo