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Guests and staff at Spirit Mountain Casino are screened daily for COVID-19, and the Health & Wellness Center, above, has maintained all of its services.


GRAND RONDE — Tribal leaders want to minimize the amount of gambling at Spirit Mountain Casino these days — at least when it comes to people’s health.

“All employees and guests undergo a temperature screening and symptom check on a daily basis,” said Sara Thompson, deputy press secretary for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, which operates the casino. “This is done to protect the staff and guests from a possible exposure.”

Casino operators also implemented a voluntary random testing system for tribal employees. Thompson said officials routinely test the tribe’s front-line workers, such as its health-care staff who have a high risk of exposure.

“This is done to help guide appropriate control measures and identify early and isolate any COVID-19 infections in the workplace,” she said in an email.

It has been a long summer for Spirit Mountain and other tribal casinos. The United States has 474 tribal casinos. They all closed by the end of March. Spirit Mountain Casino reopened June 1, but like every other casinos, both the business and the community it serves took a financial hit.

How big a hit is hard to say. Tribal officials tend to be tight with the information they release.

Spirit Mountain Casino is not among the latest list from the Oregon Health Authority of employers with COVID-19 outbreaks. In Polk County, Truitt Brothers Inc. on Northwest Murlark Avenue in West Salem was reported as having experienced nine cases, and Meduri Farms on Smithfield Road in Dallas was reported as having experienced seven cases, in data published Sept. 2.

In terms of finances, Thompson said in her written response that the pandemic has not affected tribal revenue to the point where it limits the amount of charitable donations from the Spirit Mountain Community Fund. Under an agreement with the state, casino operators donate 6 percent of the casino’s revenue to nonprofit and charitable organizations.

Recipients in Polk County have included the Falls City School District, SABLE House, CASA, Dallas Fire Department, Family Building Blocks Inc. and Polk Soil and Water Conservation District.

“The tribe has always been dedicated to maintaining its tradition of potlatch and giving,” Thompson said. “It continues to fund the Spirit Mountain Community Fund at its full 6 percent.”

In 2004, tribal leaders suspended contributions from the fund for a year. The Grand Ronde Tribal Council decided to change from monthly to yearly payments to the community fund, putting all grants on hold until spring of 2005. The move affected local organizations such as  Willamette Valley Food Assistance Program.

Thompson cited no plans to interrupt current grants.

The Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center remains closed to the public, but tribal services remain unaffected by the pandemic, she said.

“The clinic has maintained all of its previous services,” Thompson said. “Where it makes sense, we have transitioned to a telehealth format, and we have shifted the pharmacy to a mail-only pharmacy. We have also increased our testing capabilities. The clinic is conducting the COVID-19 viral test and the COVID antibody test.”

Hours and services all remain the same, she added.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has not limited tribal services but led to a number of new programs designed to help tribal members through this unprecedented time,” Thompson said.

New programs include:

COVID-19 Relief Payment Program. The program provides financial assistance to eligible tribal members to help alleviate pandemic-related hardships.

Student Technology Grant. The tribe’s technology program is designed to help tribal members with a one-time allowance of $500 to acquire the tools, like laptops and Internet access, to support their education.

Child-Care Reimbursement Program. The tribe provides funding to assist families with the high cost of child care. This is a partial reimbursement program through the Social Services Department.

COVID-19 Housing Relief Program. The program helps Grand Ronde tribal households affected by the pandemic by allowing a one-time mortgage relief assistance or rental assistance grant for tribal households throughout the United States.

For more information on the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, call 503-879-5211.

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