Near Herculean efforts by the tribal government to contain the spread of COVID-19 werent enough to save Michael Gavin, a 39-year-old member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, who died Aug. 7, some 17 months after the Tribes initially declared a state of emergency. Gavin was the second CTUIR member to die of COVID-19. His uncle was the first.
Michael was a son, a brother, and an uncle to the Gavin family, which included his mother, Shawna, a member of the CTUIR Health Commission, and his sister, Jill-Marie Gavin-Harvey, one of nine members of the Tribes board of trustees, the policy-making panel for the confederacy of the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla peoples.
Gavin was an evangelical Christian and youth pastor at a Pentecostal church, and he followed the Washat seven-drum Longhouse religion. He also was a former gang member who, even after he left that lifestyle, counseled other gang members from around the world.
Michael Gavin with sister Jill-Marie Gavin-Harvey, who tried to convince him to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Courtesy of Gavin family/Underscore News
He was not vaccinated, despite the urging of his family and his Tribe. He died at Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla two weeks after his admittance to the ICU.
Now, Shawna wants people to know her son would likely be alive today if he had taken advantage of the readily available vaccine. We encouraged him. I wish he had been vaccinated. Thats my message.
On March 2, 2020, the Oregon Health Authority announced Umatilla Countys first case of the novel coronavirus. The CTUIR leadership was surprised, but took quick action, establishing an Incident Command Team that put together a plan of action.
The infected individual worked at Wildhorse Resort & Casino, which prompted closure to sanitize the gaming and hotel property. At that point in the pandemic, health officials had concerns about the virus being spread on surfaces. Soon after, tribal government, Nixyaawii Community School, Head Start, and daycare, and the senior center closed for cleaning as well.
The following day, the CTUIRs Incident Command Team enacted an emergency operations center, and by mid-March, the Tribes board of trustees had passed a public health quarantine law. The Umatilla Tribes were well ahead of most other local governments in responding to an unprecedented public health challenge.
Michael Gavin, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, died of COVID-19 on Aug. 7.
Courtesy of Gavin family/Underscore News
Nearly 900 employees at Nixyaawii Governance Center, the government headquarters on the Umatilla Reservation, were encouraged to work from home, with staggered work schedules and social-distancing requirements implemented for those who remained onsite. The Treaty Bison Hunt, the CTUIRs treaty-reserved right to harvest buffalo in Montana, was canceled. Wildhorse Resort & Casino closed the gambling floor and limited all food service to takeout. Kayak Public Transit, the CTUIR bus service provided throughout Eastern Oregon, shut down its daily service.
Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center began providing only essential services, and the ICT issued a temporary ban on housing evictions. By April 2020, Wildhorse had closed its hotel, cineplex, and two main cafes. CTUIR even issued a temporary ban on all forms of traditional sweat, a saunalike health and cultural practice.
As the number of positive cases dropped, restrictions were lessened. Wildhorse was given clearance to reopen its facilities, while Yellowhawk resumed routine medical, behavioral health, and dental appointments. The Yellowhawk alcohol and drug prevention program conducted a community smudge the practice of spiritually cleansing areas with the smoke of smoldering sage and hand-drum songs throughout the Nixyaawii community. Kayak Public Transit resumed limited operations.
In December, the Tribes department of natural resources loaned to Yellowhawk an ultra-low temperature freezer designed to hold lamprey that the health center could instead use to refrigerate COVID-19 vaccines. Starting Dec. 3, Yellowhawk began mass vaccinations, first offering vaccines to tribal members and all tribal employees, and eventually extending eligibility to everyone over 16 living within the Tribes ceded territory, which encompasses 6.4 million acres and includes parts of nine Oregon counties and five in Washington.
Vaccinations continued throughout the spring. In early April, tribal government employees were allowed back in their offices, and Wildhorse Resort & Casino, which had furloughed 70 employees, called employees back to work.
Then, on May 12, 2021, a press release announced an alarming surge in COVID-19 on the Umatilla Indian Reservation. After six weeks of reporting zero cases among tribal members and Yellowhawk-eligible patients, the CTUIR recorded five cases in a week, followed by nine cases in a single day. The board of trustees approved a vaccination incentive first prize of $50,000 for tribal members and employees.
As of Aug. 21, Yellowhawk had conducted 3,716 tests with 361 positive cases for a 9.7% rate of infection.
Despite the growing concern about the new delta variant and the striking increase in cases, Michael Gavin chose not to be vaccinated.
According to Michaels family, his decision not to receive the vaccine was a personal choice, not a political one.
Family members said it was Michaels trust in God, combined with skepticism as to whether the vaccine was safe, that prompted the fateful decision to decline the shot.
On July 19, Michael Gavin started feeling sick.
The next day, Jill-Marie Gavin-Harvey suggested that the adults in the house get tested at Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center, even though everyone but Michael had been vaccinated.
Michael tested positive, as did his mother and uncle, Michael Ray Johnson, on July 20. The vaccine lessened the symptoms for Johnson, who was asymptomatic, and even though Shawna had a fever and body aches, her symptoms went away after a day or two.
Not so for Michael. His cough intensified, and doctors told the family his health was worsening.
Shawna drove Michael to the hospital in Walla Walla, about 25 minutes away from their house. That drive was the last time she would see her son alive.
We found out the next day he hadnt been forthright with us about how sick he was, Jill-Marie said. We didnt know hed been admitted directly to ICU and we couldnt go in.
As his hospital stay stretched into the second week, Michael became more honest, Jill-Marie said.
He said, I cant breathe. He told me, Dont call me because its hard to talk, Shawna said.
The doctors report was grim and preparations were made to fly Michael to Providence Hospital in Portland.
Michaels heart stopped as he was being transferred from a hospital gurney to a helicopter gurney. Medics worked for 45 minutes trying to bring him back.
When the doctor called, he said we needed to know there was no hope, Shawna said. I told him Michael didnt want to be intubated. We were going to have to let him go.
On Aug. 10, hand drummers and singers, with dramatic heart-pounding songs, led an interdenominational service in the afternoon, followed that evening by Washat songs three sevens. A final seven songs were sung the next morning before Michael was buried at Homly Cemetery near Cayuse on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, his grave on the south-facing hill overlooking the Umatilla River. It was where he would want to be, according to Michaels family.
Shawna believes Michael would still be with them if hed received the COVID-19 vaccine.
He never thought (the virus) wasnt real, but he was leery of the vaccine. If things werent black and white Michael usually wasnt interested, she said.
Jill-Marie said, Part of me wishes Id pushed him harder but realistically there was no pushing Mikey. If he didnt want to do it, he was not going to do it. I dont believe he ever regretted not getting the vaccine.
Jill-Marie said its been a terrible year for leaders on the Umatilla Reservation.
Especially as an elected official. Decisions were hard. No one saw this coming. We didnt know exactly the right path to take. It was difficult. I wanted to protect my people and couldnt protect my own brother.
There was a lot of turmoil, but people need to know this is not over. We cant be letting our guards down. There is no sure-fire way to protect us from COVID-19, but we do have some tools. I hope people will think seriously about protecting their loved ones. This is the worst pain Ive ever felt.
Underscore.newsis a nonprofit collaborative reporting team in Portland focused on in-depth reporting and coverage of Indigenous communities. They are supported by foundations, corporate sponsors and donor contributions. FollowUnderscore.newsonFacebookandTwitter.
Despite early jump on COVID-19, tribes lose a brother and a son - OPB News
- Natural immunity is good. Getting vaccinated after being sick with COVID-19 is better. - USA TODAY - October 19th, 2021
- COVID-19 and pregnancy: Women regret not getting the vaccine - The Boston Globe - October 19th, 2021
- Atea's antiviral pill fails to clear Covid-19, forcing a re-think - STAT - STAT - October 19th, 2021
- Governor Hochul Announces New COVID-19 Data Hub Website to Expand Public Access, Centralize Information and Improve the User Experience - ny.gov - October 19th, 2021
- Nearly every person in Iran seems to have had covid-19 at least once - New Scientist - October 19th, 2021
- Convicted murderer Robert Durst hospitalized with COVID-19 - ABC News - October 19th, 2021
- Biden Admin to Lift COVID-19 Travel Restrictions for Vaccinated - The National Law Review - October 19th, 2021
- Lawyer: Robert Durst is in the hospital with COVID-19 - NPR - October 17th, 2021
- State records 4,485 new COVID-19 infections; 83 in Valley - Sunbury Daily Item - October 17th, 2021
- A dad who traveled 1,200 miles for Covid-19 care is finally going home. Here's what he wants you to know - CNN - October 17th, 2021
- More Covid-19 boosters are on the horizon. But not everyone will need one, experts say - CNN - October 17th, 2021
- Cam Newton reportedly receives COVID-19 vaccine as he looks to sign with NFL team - Sporting News - October 17th, 2021
- Dozens of lawsuits seek to force hospitals to treat COVID-19 with ivermectin | TheHill - The Hill - October 17th, 2021
- The Children Who Lost a Parent to COVID-19 - The Atlantic - October 17th, 2021
- Reddit channel posts stories of anti-vaxxers dying of Covid, scaring fence-sitters into getting the shot - CNBC - October 17th, 2021
- Fans excited to celebrate game day in Tiger Stadium without COVID-19 protocols - WBRZ - October 17th, 2021
- Analysis: With boosters, masks and Green Pass, Israel sees a COVID-19 wave in retreat - Reuters - October 17th, 2021
- COVID-19 in South Dakota: 318 total new cases; Death toll rises to 2,189; Active cases at 5,868 - KELOLAND.com - October 17th, 2021
- Some Sixers thought Ben Simmons lied about COVID-19 exposure to try to get out of Game 7 vs. Hawks, per report - CBS Sports - October 17th, 2021
- COVID-19 testing can be hard to come by in Northeast Ohio - News 5 Cleveland - October 17th, 2021
- More Victorians died of COVID-19 in August than any other point in the pandemic - Victoria Advocate - October 17th, 2021
- Kyrie Irving, angry parents and personal choice in the Covid-19 culture war - CNN - October 17th, 2021
- Is there truly no COVID-19 in Turkmenistan? Experts weigh in - Medical News Today - October 14th, 2021
- Wednesday, October 13, 2021 COVID-19 Updates | Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) - COVID-19 - October 14th, 2021
- Wisconsin hospitals urge COVID-19 vaccination for staff now required to have shot - Wisconsin Public Radio News - October 14th, 2021
- Texas considers law that would ban COVID-19 mandates in the state - NPR - October 14th, 2021
- Legislature doesn't notify everyone in hearing with COVID-19 exposures - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - October 14th, 2021
- The hidden cost of Covid-19: years of life lost among the young - STAT - STAT - October 14th, 2021
- WVU Today | WVU School of Public Health aids state efforts to boost COVID-19 vaccination among minority communities - WVU Today - October 14th, 2021
- DPH chief sees very good trend on COVID-19 cases - WWLP.com - October 14th, 2021
- New Navy Guidance Will Discharge Sailors Refusing COVID-19 Vaccination Without Exemption - USNI News - USNI News - October 14th, 2021
- NEW: 45 deaths in Nevada, but COVID-19 cases and test positivity continue to fall - KLAS - 8 News Now - October 14th, 2021
- UnitedHealth expects smaller hit from COVID-19 in 2022 - Reuters - October 14th, 2021
- Wisconsin students have to do safety drills every year. With COVID-19, some schools are approaching them differently - Wisconsin Public Radio News - October 14th, 2021
- New Zealand reports biggest rise in COVID-19 cases in six weeks - Reuters - October 14th, 2021
- Columbus Division of Police officer dies after COVID-19 illness - NBC4 WCMH-TV - October 14th, 2021
- Bears RB Damien Williams placed on COVID-19 list - The Athletic - October 14th, 2021
- 86 new COVID-19 cases reported for Juneau Oct. 9 thru 11 City and Borough of Juneau - City and Borough of Juneau - October 12th, 2021
- Appleton earmarks $2 million in federal COVID-19 aid to support renovation and expansion of library - Post-Crescent - October 12th, 2021
- Sydney COVID-19 cases ease further as focus shifts to reviving economy - Reuters - October 12th, 2021
- Whats the deal with NJs unspent COVID-19 relief? - NJ Spotlight - October 12th, 2021
- Ingham County health officer: COVID-19 is here to stay - WOODTV.com - October 12th, 2021
- Denby Fawcett: Covid-19 Can't Be Wiped Out But It Can Be Managed - Honolulu Civil Beat - October 12th, 2021
- Howard University Homecoming closed to alumni due to COVID-19 pandemic - FOX 5 DC - October 12th, 2021
- Is it COVID-19, the flu, or RSV? Doctor offers tips - NBC4 WCMH-TV - October 12th, 2021
- Two Bengals placed on reserve/COVID-19 list after playing Sunday - Acme Packing Company - October 12th, 2021
- Indiana sees decline in first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccinations - WANE - October 12th, 2021
- Boston Marathon organizer says 93 percent of participants are vaccinated against COVID-19 - Boston.com - October 12th, 2021
- When Will the Covid-19 Pandemic Be Over? - Gizmodo - October 12th, 2021
- How your emotional response to the COVID-19 pandemic changed your behavior and your sense of time - KUT - October 12th, 2021
- Amazon sued by warehouse workers over COVID-19 screening pay - Reuters - October 12th, 2021
- Fauci says he 'strongly suspects' that COVID-19 deaths will go down in the winter | TheHill - The Hill - October 10th, 2021
- Are COVID-19's big waves over? Experts are split | TheHill - The Hill - October 10th, 2021
- A look at major COVID-19 developments over the past week - The Atlanta Journal Constitution - October 10th, 2021
- Ivey extends limited COVID-19 health emergency to Oct. 31 - WIAT - CBS42.com - October 10th, 2021
- COVID-19 case rates remain high in Inland Northwest - The Spokesman Review - October 10th, 2021
- Johnson: Hospitals overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients 'doesn't mean there's some massive crisis' - Wisconsin Public Radio News - October 10th, 2021
- Onondaga County and Kinney Drugs to host COVID-19 booster clinic Thursday, October 14 - CNYcentral.com - October 10th, 2021
- So far this year, schools report far higher rates of COVID-19 in students, staff - WBUR - October 10th, 2021
- Learning the lessons of health care worker burnout from Covid-19- STAT - STAT - October 7th, 2021
- Explainer: What researchers say about the long-term effects of COVID-19 - Reuters - October 7th, 2021
- COVID-19 vaccine mandates pressure employees to get their ... - October 7th, 2021
- Public Health urges vaccination as COVID-19 metrics improve, expands booster shot clinic - Communications and Outreach - Communications and Outreach -... - October 7th, 2021
- DHHR reports active COVID-19 cases about the same - West Virginia MetroNews - October 7th, 2021
- Best Practices For Documenting The Covid-19 Vaccination Status Of Employees - Forbes - October 7th, 2021
- COVID-19 in South Dakota: 474 total new cases; Death toll rises to 2,170; Active cases at 6,716 - KELOLAND.com - October 7th, 2021
- Here's how one college system kept Covid-19 cases down as they surged throughout the state - CNN - October 7th, 2021
- Hungary has offered help to Romania in treating COVID-19 patients - foreign ministry - Reuters - October 7th, 2021
- Minnesota to expand COVID-19 testing options in schools - Minnesota Public Radio News - October 7th, 2021
- Grant program in Chesapeake on wastewater tests for COVID-19 to possibly expand - 13newsnow.com WVEC - October 7th, 2021
- Onondaga County school switching to remote learning because of Covid-19 cases and quarantines - syracuse.com - October 7th, 2021
- Newest state workers face termination over COVID-19 mandates - The CT Mirror - October 7th, 2021
- NCDHHS: 70% of NC adults have received first dose of COVID-19 vaccine - WNCT - October 7th, 2021
- COVID-19 reinfection likely for the unvaccinated - WANE - October 7th, 2021
- Austin PD will start testing uniformed officers for COVID-19 every week - KXAN.com - October 7th, 2021
- WV Gov. Justice reads through 97 COVID-19 deaths Thursday, the most yet - WBOY.com - October 7th, 2021
- Should your vaccination status be on your resume? Heres what experts say - CNBC - October 7th, 2021
- Researchers say Hawaii Health Department officials have refused to share COVID-19 data - Honolulu Star-Advertiser - October 7th, 2021
- Health expert weighs in on where Washington stands in reaching COVID-19 herd immunity - KING5.com - October 7th, 2021
- Patchogue, NY Coronavirus Updates & News For September 29 - October 3rd, 2021