The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation own and operate the Wildhorse Resort and Casino in Pendleton, Oregon. Photo: Wildhorse Resort and Casino

Umatilla Tribes reopen casino after addressing coronavirus

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation reopened their gaming facility after addressing fears connected to the coronavirus in Oregon.

The Wildhorse Resort and Casino was once again welcoming customers as of noon on Wednesday. The facility had been closed for 48 hours while staff conduct a "deep cleaning" following news that an employee tested "presumptive positive" for the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).

“The safety of our patrons is our highest priority,” Gary George, the chief executive officer of Wildhorse, said in a news release. “We deeply appreciate the leadership of the board of trustees and the guidance and support of our public health incident command team.”

Even though this global pandemic has hit home, we are proud of our local Tribal Government and employees for...

Posted by Wildhorse Resort & Casino on Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The affected employee worked in a "restricted" area of Wildhorse, according to an update shared by the casino on Tuesday. The person was not in direct contact with guests, and did not handle food served at the facility.

“We are all praying for a speedy recovery of our staff member,” said Kat Brigham, the chair of the the tribe's board of trustees. “We appreciate everyone’s patience and look forward to welcoming back our friends and patrons.”

The tribe acted quickly on Monday after learning of the "presumptive positive" test. A command center was set up at the Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center, and officials have been working closely with state, local and federal authorities to address the potential spread of the coronavirus.

According to a health center news release, "the risk of exposure to coronavirus at Wildhorse Resort and Casino is minimal."

In another update, the command center reminded the public of "no known positive cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) on the reservation. The affected employee had been engaged in public activity off the reservation, in a nearby community.

The Wildhorse employee is the third known case of COVID-19 in Oregon, according to the state health agency. No further incidents have been reported since Monday.

"Even though this global pandemic has hit home, we are proud of our local Tribal Government and employees for prioritizing the importance of the health and safety of our guests," the casino said in a post on social media that documented some of the efforts taken on the reservation to address the coronavirus. " Wildhorse has been re-certified for occupancy by local, State and Tribal health officials. We are proud to welcome you back!"

The story looks a lot different in neighboring Washington, where at least 70 coronavirus cases have been confirmed. Ten people connected to COVID-19 have died in the state.

And in neighboring California, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) declared a health emergency on Wednesday. A person died from COVID-19, the first in the state, where at least 53 cases have been reported.

California is also the largest Indian gaming market in the U.S. It's home to more than 100 tribes and the largest population of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the country.

Oregon is home to 10 federally recognized tribes. Their reservations are spread throughout the state, with Umatilla located in the northeastern region, not far from the border with Washington.

Washington is home to 29 federally recognized tribes. Many have homelands in the heavily populated area around Seattle, where the majority of coronavirus cases have been identified.

Read More on the Story
Wildhorse Resort & Casino reopens 48 hours after coronavirus fears (The Eugene Register-Guard March 4, 2020)
Wildhorse Resort & Casino reopens after cleaning, inspection due to employee with COVID-19 coronavirus (KPTV March 4, 2020)
Tri-City groups consider canceling events, as Wildhorse casino reopens (The Tri-City Herald March 4, 2020)

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
Indian Country Today: Warnings for tribes as coronavirus spreads (March 3, 2020)
Umatilla Tribes shut down casino and takes precautions as coronavirus hits Indian Country (March 3, 2020)