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Yurok Reservation Closes To Non-Essential Visitors

Five people wearing masks and protective gowns stand at a table in front of the Yurok Tribe Education Department.
The Yurok Tribe / Facebook
The Yurok Education Department distributes printers to students on the reservation so they could study from home.

The Yurok Tribe has closed its reservation in Northern California to all non-essential visitors for the next three weeks.

Tribal members say the closure is a response to increasing COVID cases in nearby areas. Both Humboldt and Del Norte counties are in California’s most restrictive tier for coronavirus regulations due to high case numbers.

Meanwhile, the Yurok Reservation has only had 15 cases since the pandemic started. Tribal officials attribute their low case numbers to the tribe’s swift response to the pandemic.

Commercial and recreational traffic is still permitted through the reservation, but tribal members are asking people to avoid stopping at any shops or residences. The Yurok Reservation had a similar closure that lasted from March to October.

“Normally this is a place that we like to share,” says Serene Hayden, Director of the Office of Emergency Services. “We love tourism and we want to provide our cultural education, but now is just not that time due to our critical population: the elders that we care about. We’re not willing to risk them for that.”

Native Americans are five times more likely than white people to become hospitalized due to COVID-19. Hayden says that’s why the tribe has taken strict precautions early on. It’s kept all non-essential businesses closed since March, and it’s implemented regular check-ins with tribal elders.

April Ehrlich is an editor and reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, she was a news host and reporter at Jefferson Public Radio.