Tribes increase restrictions: ‘We have to be more cautious than the state’

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Screenshot of video update on Friday from Anthony Sampson, chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.
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Screenshot of video update on Friday from Anthony Sampson, chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.

While Saturday marked the first step in Nevada’s reopening, tribes have continued to see an increase in the number of positive tests for COVID-19, leading to greater restrictions by tribal governments in an effort to minimize the spread of the virus.

The number of positive cases in Nevada’s native community rose to at least 44 over the weekend with new cases reported by the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. Since the start of the pandemic, tribal leaders have had to deal with theft, vandalism, a lack of funding and declining revenue, but a recent cluster of COVID-19 cases has left tribes with a fast-growing challenge.

On Saturday, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony announced a total of 15 confirmed cases among its 1,150 member tribe, a significant increase from 5 cases two weeks ago.

“Unfortunately we are now seeing how rapidly the virus can spread,” said chair of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Arlan Melendez in a video update.

On Friday, the Pyramid Lake Pauite Tribe announced that the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 among its 2,288 enrolled members climbed to 24 cases, an increase of at least 10 in a week. About 58 tests have been administered by the tribe’s health center, according to Dawna Brown, the director of the Pyramid Lake Tribal Health Clinic.

“Stay home. If you don’t need to go out, stay inside and keep social distancing,” said Anthony Sampson, the chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute in a video update Friday.

In the video Don Pelt, the emergency response coordinator for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, said his office was working on obtaining cloth masks for all residents on the reservation.

The spike in cases among the two tribes is likely connected to gatherings attended by members of both tribes, said Melendez, warning against further travel between the two reservations.

Melendez said he has been in contact with Sampson, the chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, adding that both leaders would work together to trace cases and share information.

I think that’s the best way we’re going to try to get a handle on this,” Melendez said. 

In light of the surge of new confirmed cases, both tribes announced additional restrictions.

On Saturday, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony extended two resolutions mandating a mandatory curfew and a stay-at-home order through May 31. The tribe will also restrict the entry of non-residents into the reservation by marking tribal members’ cars with a specifically designed sticker.

Gatherings of more than 10 are banned and all residents living on the tribe’s reservation are ordered to stay home with the exception of essential activities, like grocery shopping, seeking medical care, caring for another individual, or traveling for work deemed essential. 

Anyone found violating the council’s orders could risk a $500 fine on a first and second offense, and up to 180 days of jail time or 300 hours of community service on the third offense.

“We have to be more cautious than the state,” said Melendez, in a video update. “We have to be really vigilant in following these directives.”

The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe likewise extended an order to keep the reservation closed to non-residents for 60 days or until the COVID-19 pandemic has “substantially eased.” All traffic entering tribal lands will now be screened at two checkpoints — one south of Nixon and another near Sutcliffe — those without proof of residency will be turned away.

The restrictions include Pyramid Lake, meaning all permitted activities including boating, camping, fishing, and day-use activities will be closed to the general public. 

“It has been a hard decision to make because it is a huge financial risk for us,” said Sherry Ely-Mendes, Vice-Chairwoman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. “We are hopeful it can end sooner. We would love to invite our guests back out here to recreate and for our economy to start going again.”

Jeniffer Solis
Reporter | Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies. While at UNLV she was a senior staff writer for the student newspaper, the UNLV Scarlet and Gray Free Press, and a news reporter for KUNV 91.5 FM, covering everything from the Route 91 shooting to UNLV housing. She has also contributed to the UNLV News Center and worked as a production engineer for several KUNV broadcasts before joining the Nevada Current. She’s an Aries.