Michael Hunter, Tribal Chairman, Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians

Michael Hunter, Tribal Chairman
Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians

Coyote Valley Casino in Redwood Valley, CA

COVID-19 has had a reverberating effect on our tribe and community as a whole. The pandemic has changed the predictability of the workforce, supplies and resources. Operating hours and standard operating procedures have changed to keep our team members and community safe. The virus is of particular threat to Coyote Valley due to the socio-economic and health risk demographics. The 70-acre reservation is home to 250 residents, including 11 elders over the age of 65. An additional 250 members reside off the reservation – some in high risk, urban areas. Per the most recent tribal census data, 24% of the residents are “doubled up,” in overcrowded homes, 97% are low-moderate income, and many rely on general assistance from the tribe. During the initial closure, we had our struggles with closing the reservation to visitors to help protect our members. It was important for us to have the capability of isolating and quarantining households, and ensuring our community members received current/updated information on the pandemic – including instructions and supplies to sanitize and clean their homes effectively.

Our Public Health Director and management team have done a wonderful job staying informed with surrounding counties, and paying attention to the trends throughout the U.S. and the world. At the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the state had very little access to tests, which could have had a devastating impact within the Native community as we have seen happen on the Navajo Nation. Per the direction of our Public Health Director, the tribe started to monitor the residential sewer system for COVID-19. This technique allowed our Health Director to monitor potential uprises within the community; further allowing the tribal government to respond accordingly.

As Tribal Chairman, I felt it was extremely important to combat the crisis by gathering all available information, listening to experts (local and worldwide) and disseminate facts to my community. This strategy was and is an on-going collaborative effort among our key players. As the pandemic evolves, so do our operations. Our teams are continually assessing the situational impacts to our tribal businesses, tribal members and tribal employees. When new situations are presented, our teams immediately update the standard operating procedures and the detailed COVID-19 Pandemic plan accordingly.

Our casino was built with a 100% non-recycled, fresh air HVAC system. In addition to this fresh air component, we have implemented a number of important procedures to enhance team member and guests safety. We require all guests and employees to wash/sanitize their hands upon entry and re-entry; utilize non-touch thermo device monitors for potential fevers; and masks must be worn at all times – covering both nose and face. We employ increased sanitizing, with team members actively sanitizing and wiping down machines and the facility during operational hours; and nightly through cleaning conducted during the closing hours of 4am-9am.

We have mandatory staff COVID-19 testing every month for all team members (both saliva based and nose/throat testing methods) with a private company to ensure a quick turnaround time and notification. Additionally, we have eliminated indoor-smoking and require all guests to utilize the designated outdoor smoking area. Team members are encouraged to notify HR and their supervisors if they are not feeling well. Our management team would rather error on the side of extra caution, rather than having a COVID outbreak among team members and our guests.  My advice to other tribes is to continue to communicate and collaborate. This is key to a healthy tribal community, and the Coyote Valley Tribe has worked diligently with all departments, local experts to expand the delivery of health and social services to our community. Do not be afraid to adjust on the fly and/or make changes as the pandemic evolves.