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Mask Mandate Returns To Meskwaki Settlement

Natalie Krebs
IPR file
Rudy Papakee, the director of the Meskwaki Health Center, has been at the center of the Meskwaki Nation's COVID-19 response, coordinating testing and vaccinations and advising the tribal council on restrictions.

A mask mandate is back in place on the Meskwaki settlement in Tama County. The Meskwaki Nation brought the requirement back as a precaution against the fast-spreading delta variant of COVID-19.

Rudy Papakee, the health director of the Meskwaki Health Clinic, thought COVID-19 might make a comeback at some point, but he did not think it would happen so soon.

“I was hoping we'd get through at least the summer, and then we'd possibly have a COVID resurgence again when people started turning back indoors,” Papakee said. “Unfortunately, with the delta variant, it doesn't care what the temperature is and it's here to stay.”

With the highly-contagious delta variant of the coronavirus in mind, the Meskwaki Nation of Iowa reissued a mask mandate on Thursday for people entering tribal organization buildings.

Papakee said executive director Lawrence SpottedBird made the decision in response to the spread of the delta variant and to new CDC guidelines asking people in high-transmission areas to wear masks indoors, even if they’re vaccinated.

“Prevention works,” Papakee said. “Masks are one of the number one keys to helping stop the spread, and the vaccines are working as well.”

The Meskwaki settlement has a much higher vaccination rate than the rest of Iowa, around 85 percent compared to 61 percent of all Iowans over 18 years-old.

The settlement went three months without a new, confirmed case of COVID-19, Papakee said, but in recent days two new cases were reported. In one case, the person was not vaccinated. The other appears to be an example of a “breakthrough” case in someone who had the vaccine.

The reemergence of the virus and return of the mask mandate has caused some people to ask questions about the vaccine, Papakee said.

“We've had to debate this with some of our own people as well, that you told me if I got vaccinated I wouldn't get sick, I wouldn't get the virus,” Papakee said. “Well, unfortunately, only 50 percent of the rest of the U.S. were vaccinated. The other 50 percent were not, so that's going to going to allow this virus to continue to mutate.”

The renewed mandate does not apply to the Meskwaki casino, hotel or other businesses.

Papakee said the Meskwaki Settlement School does plan to require masks when classes start up again next month. That’s not an option for other Iowa school districts that are bound by a new state law barring cities and schools from requiring masks.

“That’s one of the benefits of being a sovereign nation,” Papakee said. “We don’t have to follow the rules of the State of Iowa. That’s something the tribe has used to help curb the coronavirus from the beginning.”

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa