MENOMINEE RESERVATION, Wis. (SPECTRUM NEWS) –– Menominee tribal leaders continue to battle the effects of COVID-19 on two fronts as the pandemic rolls on.
Tribal chairperson Joan Delabreau says not only is the reservation dealing with an uptick in positive COVID-19 cases, but the economy is also continuing to suffer from safety measures put in place to protect tribal members and employees.
“You’d like to keep as many people as you can employed, but when your largest revenue source is closed, that really comes with limitations," Delabreau says.
The reservation's largest revenue source is its casino. Delabreau says earlier this year tribal leadership decided to layoff roughly 400 casino workers. That's on top of the hundreds of other reservation employees laid off due to the pandemic.
Delabreau says such decisions are made with safety in mind, intending to curb the spread of the virus.
“A positive [case] coming into any of our departments can literally wipe out a department," she says.
Some employees at the casino, tribal clinic and other departments have tested positive for COVID-19.
The Tribal Legislature has ordered dozens of employees and tribal members to quarantine after contact tracing efforts were completed.
Delabreau says the measures should lessen the risk of exposure to the virus. She says doing nothing would have impacted the tribal government's ability to function at all.
“So we needed to do something and incident command recognized that," she says.
She says there was hope that cases would drop off after the state began to reopen. However, the number of confirmed cases has nearly doubled in the last month: Jumping from nine to 17.
“It’s difficult in the sense that...You’re so worried about this impacting your family because of the high-risk factors that exist on this reservation," she says.
The tribe is working on ways to keep its government funded and functioning, so it can continue to provide critical services to members.
“We may eventually — probably this month — have to start tapping into some of the reserves to continue to provide some of the services that we have going on," she says.
Delabreau says she believes the biggest help would be if residents of the reservation took safety guidelines seriously. That would help keep the virus away.