Tahlequah, Okla. — Cherokee Nation received 6,000 rapid test kits from the Indian Health Service to enhance how the tribe tests for COVID-19 within its school system and among its most vulnerable citizens.

With the new testing system, positive and negative test results can be obtained in as little as 15 minutes.

“With positive COVID-19 cases still on the rise here in the Cherokee Nation, this rapid testing capability will make a big difference in our efforts to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” said Cherokee Nation Chief of Staff Todd Enlow. “The tests can quickly and easily identify if someone has the virus, which will help prevent outbreaks, especially among our elderly and disabled citizens as well as in our school system.”

Indian Health Service received 300,000 Abbott BinaxNOW diagnostic tests from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to support COVID-19 testing in rural and tribal communities.

Cherokee Nation plans to strategically distribute the tests throughout the tribe’s 14 county reservation, including within the tribe’s health centers and for Sequoyah Schools testing.

The rapid tests were implemented in Sequoyah Schools as part of the tribe’s plan to safely allow students to participate in limited, in-person classroom instruction.

“With this testing capability added to our existing practices such as mandatory masks and social distancing, we can test students, teachers and staff weekly and get results before they are even allowed into the building. This allows us to safely bring students back to school for at least one day of in-person learning each week,” said Enlow.

The cutting-edge tests use nasal swabs to test for the presence of COVID-19. The test is simple to use, inexpensive, and can be easily administered by medical personnel or trained operators in certain non-clinical environments. 

The easy-to-use system does not require any laboratory machinery, and is compact enough that the tests are run on a card that is about the size of a credit card.

“The Abbott BinaxNOW is a major advance for COVID-19 testing. By distributing this technology to tribal communities, we are protecting our most vulnerable and at-risk populations,” said Cherokee Nation Health Services Executive Medical Director

Dr. Roger Montgomery.

The Cherokee Nation has implemented a number of protocols for protecting employees and visitors to tribal facilities. These include the expansion of testing capabilities within the work place, such as surface testing; and introducing a number of safety measures including screening upon entry at any of Cherokee Nation’s 150 government office locations, installing partitions at client interaction areas, requiring the use of masks, and enhancing the existing cleaning and disinfecting protocols. The tribe has also made efforts to provide accessible COVID-19 testing to its citizens and communities by offering drive-through testing at all Cherokee Nation Health Services clinics.

As of Oct. 27, Cherokee Nation Health Services has had 3,162 patients test positive for COVID-19.