TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation is supporting public school districts in the tribe’s Reservation by donating thousands of Cherokee-made masks to districts that implement schoolwide mask mandates to help reduce the spread of the deadly COVID-19 Delta variant.

The 3-ply surgical masks are manufactured by Cherokee Nation at the tribe’s two new PPE facilities located in Stilwell and Hulbert, which were built in 2020. The facilities were created with a portion of the tribe’s Respond, Recover and Rebuild federal CARES Act funding.

“Thanks to the hard work of scientists, doctors and public health experts, we know that wearing masks is a proven method for slowing the spread of this dangerous virus,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “Children and young people are of special concern as the Delta variant has caused a surge in COVID cases and impacting more younger citizens, while our children are returning to school. It is mystifying to me that the state of Oklahoma has made it illegal for Oklahoma public schools to implement mask mandates, which have been proven to work and protect our families and communities. I continue to strongly encourage school districts within our reservation and across the state of Oklahoma to protect their students and staff from this virus by implementing mask requirements. For schools in the reservation that do take this life-saving step, the Cherokee Nation stands ready to provide a supply of Cherokee-made masks to help ease the burden that could be placed on students and districts. I applaud Hulbert Public Schools for being the first to take advantage of this offer, and we look forward to other districts following the lead of Hulbert and the Cherokee Nation.”

The Cherokee Nation’s offer to provide masks extends to all 107 school districts that receive the tribe’s annual public school contribution provided through the sale of tribal vehicle tags.

Hulbert Public Schools in Cherokee County on Thursday became the first public school district within the reservation to receive Cherokee Nation masks for students and staff after the Hulbert School Board voted Aug. 17 to require masks be worn by every adult and student.

Hulbert Public Schools Superintendent Jolyn Choate thanked the Cherokee Nation for donating 16,200 masks for their students on Thursday. Choate said on the fifth day of the new school year 154 out of 688 in the school district had to quarantine from seven positive cases at school.

“With Oklahoma’s (COVID) Alert System, our number far exceeds the county number if you look at our district alone. When you take that into consideration, along with the fact that we have 33-34 percent of our students not on campus, not in-person learning, you have to look at what is it you can do to help keep them in the classroom—for the school board and myself, it was a mask mandate,” Choate said. “No one likes to wear a mask, at the same time it becomes really no question of whether or not to do it when peoples’ lives are at stake.”

Cherokee Nation’s Sequoyah High School and Cherokee Immersion School have both implemented a mask mandate and other measures to help reduce the spread of COVID among Cherokee communities. The mandate and other protective measures are in line with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cherokee Nation employees also continue to rely on the CDC’s recommendations at government buildings, business entities and health center facilities. More than 70 percent of Cherokee Nation’s government employees have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I hope we will all support schools in doing what is necessary to protect our children, our staff, and their families from this dangerous virus,” Chief Hoskin said. “This includes strongly encouraging mask usage. I also hope Gov. Stitt will listen to Oklahoma doctors and educators who are asking him to declare a public health emergency, which would allow hospitals the ability to implement surge plans for additional beds and resources and would empower schools to exercise local control to determine what is best for their students and districts by relying on the same methods we rely on within the Cherokee Nation: medical science, facts, and compassion.”

The Cherokee Nation Health System recorded more than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 during the week of Aug. 8, the highest number of weekly new cases recorded in the tribal health system since January of 2021. Approximately 95 percent of new COVID cases recorded by the Cherokee Nation are among unvaccinated patients, and about 90 percent of new COVID cases are from the Delta variant.

Cherokee Nation Health Services continues to offer COVID-19 vaccines for anyone in the public ages 12 and older, regardless of residency or tribal citizenship. To date, the Cherokee Nation has administered more than 70,000 vaccinations from its health centers. Appointments can be made by calling 539-234-4099. Walk-ins are also welcome and a list of Cherokee Nation outpatient health centers can be found online at health.cherokee.org.

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