Cherokee Nation adds COVID-19 surface testing at tribal government offices for increased safety

Cherokee Nation Environmental Specialists Nick Clark and Logan Girty swab a high-touch surface with an environmental testing swab that will be tested for traces of COVID-19 to ensure employees are safe and that the tribe’s sanitation tactics are working in the fight against COVID-19.

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation is adding surface testing to its list of safety protocols across its tribal government office locations. This new testing capability can detect the presence of COVID-19 in both the air and on surfaces to better protect employees and visitors inside.

On June 4, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. signed a contract with Elite Element Testing Laboratory out of Sallisaw to perform and provide results of environmental testing within Cherokee Nation government buildings and offices across the tribe’s 14 counties. The signing of the agreement is also a result of the resolution passed by the Council of the Cherokee Nation in late April, approving Chief Hoskin to enter into contracts that are a part of the tribe’s direct response effort to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we reopened our facilities it was important to provide the safest conditions possible. And of course, we have been doing that by increasing our cleaning efforts and taking all the protocols that are necessary. But we are always looking for more opportunities to keep our workplace even safer,” said Chief Hoskin. “Through this contract, we are providing environmental services to the Cherokee Nation complex as well as across all of our tribal offices that test and actually detect the presence of the coronavirus on surfaces. That is important, so we can give peace of mind to our workforce and to our visitors. I also appreciate the Council, whose authority was put to excellent use to approve the contract to protect our workforce and our visitors as we respond to COVID-19.”

With the environmental testing system, called ENVIROx-RV, the COVID-19 virus can accurately be detected in less than six hours of the laboratory receiving the test sample. This rapid testing system can also detect as many as nine other viral organisms such as the flu in the air and on surfaces.

The tribe has now received about 900 testing kits, and has already begun conducting surface testing across several tribal departments that have the most contact with the general public.

Testing will continue in July and will be routinely performed in all of Cherokee Nation’s 150 government office locations within the tribe's 14 counties.

At each location, Cherokee Nation’s Environmental team carries out the testing process which includes using sterile swabs that are rolled over high-touch surfaces such as door knobs, light switches, desk and table tops as well as surfaces in public areas like waiting rooms and restrooms. Each swab is then placed in a separate test tube and labeled with the date and time of collection, sample number, building reference number, room or location, and employee number of the person collecting the sample. With detailed labeling, the area and location being tested can easily be identified should a test come back with traces of COVID-19.

The testing process is repeated using fresh swabs for each object and location being sampled.

In addition to being able to test for COVID-19, the environmental testing can also be used to validate the tribe’s cleaning and sanitation efforts. The Cherokee Nation implemented a number of safety measures since its June 1 reopening such as installing partitions at client interaction areas, requiring the use of masks and increasing its cleaning and disinfecting efforts.

“This new environmental testing method is just another way we are ensuring we provide a safe work environment for our employees and a safe environment for our citizens and visitors,” said Cherokee Nation Chief of Staff Todd Enlow. “Protecting our staff against COVID-19 requires a multi-faceted approach, and with the safety and sanitation measures we have in place, we are instilling confidence and reassurance in our employees that their health and safety is our top priority.”

The environmental testing kits were purchased from a portion of the CARES Act stimulus funds the tribe received from the U.S. Treasury. A portion of the funding was set aside to help purchase safety and sanitation supplies for the workplace, including personal protective equipment for employees, various disinfectants as well as the aerosol and surface testing kits.

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