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Governor attends Rocky Boy mass testing


Last updated 6/2/2020 at 8:06am

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Rocky Boy Health Center employees collect nasal swabs Friday during a drive-through COVID-19 testing clinic.

ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RESERVATION - Gov. Steve Bullock and other state officials visited Rocky Boy Health Center during its drive-through COVID-19 testing Friday.

The drive-through testing occurred Thursday and Friday, with a total of 1,428 people tested both days.

"I believe it's very important because for the well-being or the sense that they don't have it," Rocky Boy Health Center CEO Edward Parisian said. "... Of course, we're praying they're all negative."

He said he thinks Rocky Boy will be hosting another drive-through testing in the future.

"It's a matter of getting more tests to do it," he said. 

He added that they are bringing more staff to the health center to offer more services in terms of re-opening such as dental and pharmacy programs.

He said he thinks the partnership between the governor and Indian Country has been a fantastic partnership.

Chippewa Cree Tribal Business Committee Chairman Harlan Baker said testing is very important, especially what is being seen across the nation and the state.

"We thought that it was very important to get something like this going here as well," he said. "We're praying that there's no positive tests, but we don't know that until we have these kinds of events, so it's a big thing with us."

He said the tribe is looking at phasing the openings slowly, taking their time.

He might keep checkpoints at entries to the reservation in place, he said, adding that their incident in command team takes all data they receive from people coming in and if they have a positive test they are able to trace that back to whom and where, everybody, they were in contact with.

"We're trying to keep our community safe as best as we can," Baker said.

He also presented an eagle belt buckle to Bullock as a sign of appreciation along with the partnership between the tribe, the community and the governor.

It is a symbol in their culture, he said, that the eagle holds high significance.

"I'm humbled by this," Bullock said. "It's absolutely beautiful, but I'm also humbled by the friendships and the relationships here. 

"It's government to government working together with the same being of making sure to keep people safe," he added. "... We're saving lives today, but you never know, one car could have one positive, and, look, we're going to have live with this virus in our midst, but the more when we find those positives we can ensure that we're on it right now. That's how we're going to keep our community safe."

He said Baker and the council have been doing a great job.

It gives people comfort, he said, when they come together with a shared aim of protecting their people. 

Bullock said the drive-through testing is a perfect example of how things are going with the partnership with Indian Country.

"The coordination has been great, the communication has been great and the good work the Chippewa Cree are doing," he said. 

"I thank the governor for his partnership," Baker said. "We put a lot of safeguards in place on the reservation, the checkpoints, the stay-at-home order and we've had nothing but support from the governor's office, the state."

Big Horn County announced Friday they had six new cases with a total of 18.

More cases have been confirmed there since, with the total on the 10 a.m. update today 30 cases in Big Horn County.

Bullock said every new case becomes a concern, but a few of those cases were identified through mass testing.

The Crow Tribe in Big Horn County held mass testing for COVID-19 two weeks ago and last week.

"The way we make sure we succeed is the contact tracing along the way, so that we can identify, any time we get a positive case not only where we think that case came from, but who else that individual might've been in contact with so we can limit the spread," he said.

Every positive case, he said, has the potential to impact a family or a community.

Half of the cases in Montana have been identified by tracing the contacts people with the illness have had, he said, adding that the state is training another 130 National Guard soldiers to be contact tracers.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Governor Steve Bullock meets with Rocky Boy Health Center CEO Edward Parisian Friday at the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation drive-through testing Friday as Chippewa Cree Tribal Business Committee Chair Harlan Baker, center back, and others look on.

"Montana is a big state, but we're a small community," he said. "We take care of one another and that's what we're doing. We're battling a global pandemic person-by-person to ensure that it doesn't further spread."

The idea of surveillance testing, he said, is to have everyone to get a test.

The test only tells someone as much as they know that day, he said.

"We want to test both those with symptoms and those without both to better understand what this virus does, but also to get on top of things before one could be transmitted," Bullock said. "That's kind of the idea of surveillance testing, is taking a broad section of individuals both symptomatic and asymptomatic reason for both the data and for the managing of the virus."

He said the state is in the process of testing people in all of the nursing homes and all the workers because, they've seen in many states, that is where the largest amount of fatalities occur.

Older people are in a high-risk category with a higher chance of severe symptoms and deaths.


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