Indian casino closes after employee gets coronavirus

Wednesday 4th March 2020

SALEM, Ore. (AP) -- Leaders of an American Indian reservation in Oregon shut down its casino and several other facilities Monday after an employee contracted coronavirus, and a state health official said the virus is likely circulating and will appear in additional locations in the state.

The employee of the Wildhorse Resort and Casino on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation is hospitalized in Walla Walla, Washington, and is the third such case to emerge in Oregon, state and tribal officials said. The previous two other known cases occurred in the Portland area and had household contacts with each other, but the casino is 215 miles (350 kilometers) east of the city.

"With having three cases fairly quickly identified, two of which we can't identify the specific source, that would indicate to us that this disease is circulating in our community and we will likely see additional cases," Dean Sidelinger, state health officer and state epidemiologist, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Meanwhile, dozens of employees of a hospital in a Portland suburb -- Kaiser Permanente Westside Medical Center -- have been quarantined at home after they may have had contact, unprotected, with the first Oregonian to come down with the virus, The Oregonian newspaper reported.

"Per current CDC guidelines, people who have had contact with COVID-19 patients are asked to maintain self-isolation at home for 14 days," said Dr. Mary E. Giswold, associate director of Kaiser's hospital and post-acute care.

Chuck Sams, communications director for the confederated tribes, said the tribe was informed Monday morning by Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon Health Authority officials that an employee of the resort and casino had tested positive for the virus. The casino, an education facility, tribal elders community center and the cultural institute were being shut down for one to two days while they are disinfected. All community events on the reservation, home to about 3,000 people, are canceled for this week.

The man worked in a confined area of the casino operation and not with the general public, Sams said.

He had attended a youth basketball game at a gymnasium at the middle school in Weston, Oregon, on Saturday. School district officials have closed the gym and will clean it. Other spectators who may have been in a closed environment with the individual would be considered "low-risk" exposures, the state health authority said.

It is a mystery how the man came down with the coronavirus. He had not traveled to a part of the world with known cases of COVID-19, the health department said, saying in a statement that "it is considered a case of community transmission."

Sidelinger said that means "we don't know who that person is who gave this individual the infection.

"So it happened somewhere out in the community -- by community it could have been their home, a business, another location, somewhere where they had close contact with someone who was ill. But we don't know who that case was."

Those who live in and around the 172,000-acre (70,000-hectare) reservation are worried.

"I think people have very strong concerns with this ... but the tribe has tried to make sure that people are calm," Sams said. "And we're just trying to make sure that there's an overabundance of precaution by these closures to clean facilities just so that we can ensure that the disease doesn't spread."

Clackamas County, near Portland and the home of an elementary school where one of the other COVID-19 patients worked, declared a state of emergency. The declaration by the county board of commissioners allows the county to seek additional resources from the state.

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