CDC assists San Carlos Apache Tribe

Aaron Tohtsoni/Courtesy photo DHHS Leadership meets with the CDC Field Team to discuss the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

SAN CARLOS, Ariz.— For the last four weeks, at the request of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) deployed a field team to assist the San Carlos Apache Tribe’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and San Carlos Apache Healthcare Corporation (SCAHC) Covid-19 mitigation efforts.

The field team was made up of three epidemiologists and a field officer along with a Health Communications Specialist based out of the CDC Headquarters in Atlanta.

“We were able to determine that our efforts on addressing Covid-19 outbreaks in our community were ahead and far more innovative in dealing with the pandemic,” said DHHS Executive Director David Reede. “CDC reminded us that the Tribe is able to display the ability to lead in areas of public health as well as clinical aspects. Given our current resources we realized we are more than capable of meeting our communities’ needs during this pandemic. We have control of our future with regard to public health.”

In one aspect, the CDC assisted the DHHS Contact Tracing Program by enhancing the established protocols with CDC recommendations. In addition to enhancing contact tracing, the CDC helped analyze tracing data.

The CDC worked with DHHS Epidemiologist Dr. Yvonne Lees and SCAHC in order to understand risk factors for severe Covid-19 outcomes in the community and the surrounding counties and at the state level as well.

They also assisted in comparing Covid-19 San Carlos case trends with those of surrounding counties and the State of Arizona.

At the first mass vaccine clinic they worked with DHHS to develop and conduct a survey of patients who received the Covid-19 vaccine and reported their findings to DHHS. They also helped DHHS pilot a BinaxNOW Covid-19 serial testing within the Apache Gold Casino, Apache Sky Casino and San Carlos Detention Center.

“CDC’s presence and support helped us to apply the data we already had to strengthen our capacity in analyzing and interpreting case management and contact tracing data,” said DHHS Deputy Director Dr. Natsai Zhou Chidavaenzi. “We are now able to analyze networks of large clusters within our community, understand transmission within households on the reservation, calculate attack rates and mean duration for transmission for sample households with COVID-19 cases and assess vaccination coverage among elderly and high risk individuals. Their in-volvement in implementing COVID-19 surveillance using BinaxNOW will have impact in our strategy to detect SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern that might be circulating in our community.”

Before leaving, the CDC team had the opportunity to review the SCAT re-opening plan and pro-vided recommendations to ensure the Tribe opens up safely.

While the deployed team members worked directly with DHHS programs on site, the CDC Health Communications Specialist worked remotely with the DHHS Communications Officer, Aaron Tohtsoni, helping to bring COVID-19 prevention awareness and education to the San Carlos Apache community.

“The request for CDC technical assistance was primarily an effort to assist the tribe and evalu-ate current mitigation efforts and proposed surveillance efforts addressing COVID-19 data man-agement, data analysis and reporting systems,” concluded Reede.

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