TAHLEQUAH —The Cherokee Nation will reopen its government offices in a phased plan that incorporates social distancing and has employees returning on staggered shifts starting June 1.

All tribal employees in positions not directly connected to the tribe’s COVID-19 response have been working from home or on administrative leave since the week of March 16 to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in northeastern Oklahoma.

Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. on Friday announced the tribal government’s plan to reopen services slowly and safely to keep cases contained. Cherokee Nation governmental employees across all departments will begin returning to the workplace on June 1 and will work staggered days of the week to limit the number of employees in the building.

Meanwhile, employees aged 65 and over or with certain high-risk health conditions will continue to stay home on paid administrative leave or will work from home for the time being for safety.

“This reopening will mean our programs and services, which never ceased during this crisis, will have a workforce back in the building, ready to serve our citizens. From tag offices, to career services to registration to all other departments, we will be open for our Cherokee citizens government needs,” Chief Hoskin said. “Access will be safe, however, as we are limiting how many people, including our staff, can be in any one location at a time. We’re using staggered shifts. Staff as well as visitors to our office buildings will be required to wear masks and social-distance, and we will have rigorous sanitization practices and other safety measures in place to help protect our citizens, our employees and our communities and keep this curve flattened.”

The Cherokee Nation is also implementing a number of safety measures to prepare for June 1 such as installing partitions at client interaction areas, keeping work spaces distanced, increasing cleaning systems, using masks, and keeping waiting areas contained to 10 or fewer people per guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Cherokee Nation also encourages citizens to continue using online tag renewals, though tag offices will begin curbside services starting June 1.

Governmental employees working directly on COVID-19 response, such as health care employees, EMS, food distribution, Marshal Service and others, continue operating under their regular schedules.

Cherokee Nation Businesses’ plans for a phased reopening beginning June 1, will be released soon.

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cherokee Nation served more than 37,000 Cherokees with emergency food packages, nearly 30,000 individuals through its food distribution program, treated nearly 8,500 patients through telemedicine and responded to 1,000 calls to its COVID-19 call center and another 1,000 calls to its elder emergency food hotline.

As of May 8, the Cherokee Nation had 72 positive cases of COVID-19 and three deaths in the Cherokee Nation health system.

“COVID-19 is still in our community, our region, our country and the world,” Deputy Principal Chief Bryan Warner said. “The virus does not follow anyone’s time table but its own. That’s why we’ll continue to adjust our plans as we go along. Ensuring the safety of our citizens and employees will remain our top priority.”