As the deadly COVID-19 virus spreads rapidly on the Choctaw Indian Reservation, Chief Cyrus Ben and several Tribal Council members remain quarantined after being exposed to a person who tested positive, officials said.

In a note to Council Members Thursday night, Ben said he was concerned about the rapid spread and urged members to practice social distancing and other CDC guidelines.

“I had hoped that the partial shutdown that was accomplished through Executive Order 2020-01 on March 20th, 2020, would help to flatten the curve of incidence of COVID-19 here on the Reservation,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are now seeing a rise in positive tests. It is evident that if we are to protect Tribal members from further spread of the disease, we must do more.”

The Tribe reported Thursday 61 people have been tested through Choctaw Health Center and that eight have tested possible across the eight Tribal communities. On Monday, four had tested positive.

Three have recovered and 40 tested negative, officials said. Statewide, 129 have died out of 3,624 positive cases.

The Choctaw Department of Public Health contacted Tribal government officials on Thursday advising that they may have possibly been exposed to the COVID-19 disease during an official Tribal government function.

“Unfortunately, this news of exposure is not an isolated incident since we have received self-reports from other tribal employees who have undergone recent testing,” Ben said.

“I am weighing options to determine the best alternative given the current circumstances,” Ben said. “None of the alternatives are pleasant, but it is my responsibility to make the best decision, based on information available to me, for the health and safety of all tribal members.

“A halt to government services would include a temporary suspension of current services, such as meals to children and elderly as well as affecting emergency financial assistance to our members.

“This is certainly not what I would like to do, but to prevent the spread of this devastating disease, we are considering making those sacrifices for a limited time,” he said.

Ben said no final decision has yet been made but “I am considering a closure for the next 10 calendar days.”

Ben said that along with the closure, he was considering an executive order of shelter in place restricting public activity “unless they are in involved in limited activity and also enforcing our curfew with citations.”

“Although there may be limited amounts of incidents that our officers are detaining individuals, they will be enforcing the law with citations that members will answer to the court of law in due time,” he said.

Ben stressed that cooperation from community members is very critical. “Any action taken with regard to sending employees home so they can remain safe would be immediately nullified if community members do not abide by the recommendations to stay at home and execute other safety precautions,” he said.

“Just as we had put trust in individuals to avoid public contact knowing they had been around a tested individual who was sick, unfortunately trust alone isn’t totally effective.

“Please consider that as elected officials we must take the role of leaders, which often times means that we must make unpopular decisions,” Ben told Tribal Council members. “I ask for your support as we make decisions for all Tribal members during this unprecedented time.”

A Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Facebook post Thursday night said the COVID-19 cases were multiplying on the Reservation and surrounding communities urging members to take the pandemic seriously.

“This virus is highly contagious. Not enough of our community is staying home and the virus is spreading quickly,” the post said.

“We have active COVID-19 cases in and surrounding our Tribal communities and the numbers keep rising. We pray for all the families dealing with the COVID-19 virus and to those who have lost loved ones to this virus,” they said.

“In order to stop the virus from spreading we must stop our movements. It is not just a saying or a cute hashtag. We keep pushing Chi Chokka Anta (Stay Home) and Ahah hash ahni á chikih (Y'all Be Careful) because that is what our Tribal community needs to do in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Neshoba County had four new cases of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, according to a daily report from the Mississippi State Department of Health released Thursday. One death has also been attributed inside the county.

Neshoba County has 39 total positive cases of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. Statewide, there were 264 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday.

Pearl River Resort remains shut and Tribal government is closed to the public with essential personnel only. A curfew is in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.