BOIS FORTE RESERVATION — Chairwoman Cathy Chavers on Tuesday announced that two band members tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this week.
Chavers appeared on the Bois Forte Tribal Government’s YouTube channel to report that on-reservation health services confirmed that two members have been infected with the virus, including one person in their 60s and another in their 30s, both residents in Nett Lake.
“We are being very transparent as we do within our culture because we want to ensure that our people are safe and that we are practicing our social distancing and mask-wearing,” Chavers said during the recorded statement.
She continued, “Do not panic. Everything will be fine. We’ve been through this before...Hopefully we’ll all be safe shortly once there’s a vaccine put in place, but we don’t know when that for sure will happen.”
The Bois Forte Band had a total of 19 active and recovered positive cases of COVID-19 since mid-March, including 12 in Nett Lake and seven in Vermilion.
As of Tuesday, the band’s two new cases are the only active ones on the reservation.
“Rest assured that Bois Forte Health is doing everything in its power to keep the Reservation community safe while also providing support for those who have tested positive for COVID-19,” Chavers said. “Bois Forte Health will maintain regular contact with the isolated individuals and will monitor their compliance with isolation instructions.”
Health officials are engaged in contract tracing and planned to follow-up with members suspected of having recent contact with the individuals who tested positive for the virus, she said. The band has been coordinating with the Minnesota Department of Health regarding positive cases on the reservation to ensure a robust and thorough public health response.
The Bois Forte Band has about 3,500 enrolled members. Between 500 to 700 members live on the reservation in Nett Lake and Vermilion, while the majority of them reside in Minneapolis or elsewhere in Minnesota.
The new local cases came as surrounding cities and counties have been reporting spikes in people testing positive for the coronavirus.
At the end of June, Koochiching County (Pop. 12,500) reported nine cases and zero deaths, according to the state Health Department. As of Tuesday, the county now has 146 cases and four deaths.
In the same time frame, Itasca County (Pop. 43,000) had 63 cases and 12 deaths. The county now has 585 cases with 16 deaths.
In St. Louis County (Pop. 200,000), health officials reported 161 cases at the end of June. The county now reports 2,299 cases and 55 deaths. At least 129 people in the county have been hospitalized and 31 have been treated in intensive-care units.
City governments on the Iron Range have not been reporting individual cases.
Data from the St. Louis County Dashboard shows that the city of Duluth (Pop. 85,884) accounts for the majority of the current cases at 1,378 since mid-March, yet the number of cases have been steadily increasing in the smaller communities of the Range: Hibbing, 133; Eveleth, 64; Virginia, 54; Ely, 36; and Chisholm, 31.
The majority of cases, about 46 percent, resulted from exposure to congregate living settings, such as nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. Twenty-five percent of cases came from unknown sources while another 20 percent came from community transmission. Also 2.6 percent of cases have been found among the homeless population and in shelters.
The Bois Forte Band is among several tribal nations in Minnesota which have reported positive cases of the coronavirus. As of Tuesday, the federal Indian Health Services reported that 2,255 people tested positive for COVID-19 in the Bemidji area.