Racing the curve on the Wind River Reservation
Reservation residents are particularly susceptible to tragic outcomes from COVID-19.
April 27, 2020
From behind an N95 facemask and a plastic face shield, Lindsay McAuley’s voice is a bit muffled. In fact, it’s hard to see much of her at all. Covered up beneath a thick nylon and cotton safety suit — suspendered pants and a hooded jacket — only her eyes are visible.
It’s a far cry from the physician’s assistant’s pre-pandemic uniform.
“It’s very, very different. A lot of my patients don’t recognize me at first, that’s why I have my name written on my jacket,” she said, standing in the parking lot of the clinic’s Ethete location. She pointed to the area over her heart, where her last name is scrawled in black marker.
For McAuley, a family care provider at Wind River Family and Community Healthcare clinic on the Wind River Indian Reservation, it’s just one facet of the new normal of working on the frontlines of a global pandemic in what is considered one of the most vulnerable places in the state.
Inadequate housing, high rates of underlying health conditions, poverty and other factors mean that reservation residents are particularly susceptible to tragic outcomes from COVID-19. This spurred the clinic, operated by the Northern Arapaho Tribe and commonly known as Wind River Cares, to take early and aggressive action. The tribe and clinic were quick to issue closure orders, triage care, establish quarantine housing and offer widespread testing to all tribal members who want it. The clinic is now contact tracing as well.
Even with those precautions, case counts continue to rise and four tribal members died of COVID-19 complications last week.
So for McAuley and her coworkers, the story of the pandemic has been one of rapid and ever-evolving response, quick-thinking triage and pivoting at a moment’s notice.
It’s been a head-spinning journey, McAuley said, but she’s proud of the work they’ve done.
“At the time when we started for some people it looked a little bit premature or extreme,” she said, but, “I feel like our clinic actually did a really good job of getting out ahead of it.
“We knew that the impact would be really high in this area,” she said, “I think our leadership did a really great job of taking this very seriously.”