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TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (KFOR) – COVID-19 hospitalizations are surging within the Cherokee Nation, and 90 percent of the new COVID cases are unvaccinated patients.

Cherokee Nation health officials reported 600 new COVID cases last week, an 80 percent increase compared to the number of new cases from the prior week, and the highest increase since January 2021, according to Cherokee Nation officials.

Officials are responding to the surge by suspending elective surgeries and reactivating a COVID-19 surge plan for W.W. Hastings Hospital – actions they believe will increase in-patient room capacity by approximately 50 percent.

“Transferring patients has become difficult due to little capacity in hospitals across the region,” said Cherokee Nation Health Services Executive Medical Director Dr. Roger Montgomery. “After the surge in December 2020, this is the last thing that we wanted. Re-activating the surge plan and temporarily suspending elective surgery will help save lives by ensuring that critical care efforts are maximized – but vaccination is our best weapon against this virus.”

Blood sample positive with delta variant COVID-19 virus
(Getty Images)

Cherokee officials referenced the Delta variant, which is highly contagious and become the dominant COVID strain in the United States.

“The current swell in COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations is driven by the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus according to our Cherokee Nation Health Services and Public Health teams, both of which are working around the clock to address this situation,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “The Delta variant accounts for over 80 percent of the tribe’s new COVID cases. A continued increase in cases could mean our health system is required to redirect health care staff from outlying health centers to assist in caring for hospitalized COVID patients at W.W. Hastings Hospital. Not only is COVID-19 putting added pressures and risks on our hospital, health centers and our amazing health care team tasked with treating COVID patients, but the resurgence once again threatens the overall well-being of the Cherokee Nation and the most vulnerable among us, including our Cherokee elders. We must commit ourselves to following medical science, facts, and compassion as we respond to the surge and do everything within our power to protect our Cherokee communities.”

A July 30 report from the American Society for Microbiology states that the Delta variant is now responsible for more than 83 percent of COVID-19 cases reported in the U.S., and is 40 to 60 percent more transmissible than the primary COVID.

“In a surge, we utilize beds in the hospital that are not traditionally used for critical care and convert those into Intensive Care Unit beds. This is good for increasing the level of care for those who are critically ill; however, this also impacts services for patients who need non-COVID related treatment,” said Cherokee Nation Health Services Executive Director Dr. R. Stephen Jones.

COVID-19 vaccinations are available for anyone, including people who are not Cherokee, at all Cherokee Nation health center locations from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, excluding holidays. Walk-ins are welcome. Appointments can be scheduled by calling 1-539-234-4099.

The Cherokee Nation Health System has administered more than 65,000 COVID vaccines.

Cherokee officials recently announced that 70 percent of active Cherokee Nation government employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a rate nearly twice that of other Oklahoma counties. Cherokee Nation employees are wearing face masks to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

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