Rising COVID-19 cases prompts virtual learning, vaccine requirement discussions for Oglala Sioux Tribe schools

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PINE RIDGE, S.D. (KELO) — A rise in COVID-19 cases on the Pine Ridge Reservation has prompted tribal leaders to consider requiring vaccinations for students 12 and over.  

Infection rates within the Oglala Sioux Tribe reached a threshold to put the tribe in a “Red Risk Level” which calls for members to shelter-in-place and schools to conduct virtual learning without sports or extracurricular activities. 

All Pine Ridge Reservation school administrators are meeting with the OST COVID-19 task force to review and amend school reopening plans to allow schools to reopen to in-person learning.  

OST Vice President Alicia Mousseau said in a video announcement Monday night “a lot of the schools expressed their concern about (going back to virtual learning).” That led to Tuesday’s meeting to amend school reopening plans and bring possible changes to the OST’s Education Committee.   

These meetings follow last week’s special meeting by the OST Council, which unanimously (19-0) voted to draft an ordinance to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for all students 12 and over. The request for the vaccine mandate came from schools on the Pine Ridge Reservation.   

On Monday, the tribe reported six new positive cases, including three under the age of 11 and two in the age range of 16-20. There’s currently 83 active cases, up from 20 three weeks ago. 

The tribe had remained in its “Orange Risk Level” for the past six weeks, but moved to “Red Risk Level” after a positivity rate of 9.6% and active cases with a sustained increase of five consecutive days in a 14-day period. 

“We’ve done all we can with prevention,” Pine Ridge Reservation Public Information Officer Dakota High Hawk said. “Now we have a major disruption on the reservation.” 

Along with shelter-in-place orders, essential businesses are capped at 25% capacity, essential travel only for food, supplies and medical services and there’s to no gatherings of 10 or more, except for essential government business.

OST officials also said the tribe’s four contact tracers were getting overwhelmed by new cases and trying to locate close contacts. Last year, OST officials said they had three Public Health Investigators, seven contact tracers and 10 monitors to help in contact tracing and quarantine or isolation monitoring efforts. 

Since the pandemic began, the OST has had 397 hospitalizations from COVID-19 and 63 deaths.

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