Tribal Chief Cyrus Ben announced last week a series of steps the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians would implement to minimize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on members including a curfew.

On Friday, Ben signed an executive order directing all Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indian divisions, departments, offices, programs, commissions and school to review and identify which employees perform critical duties to carry out the entity’s essential functions and develop a plan to have those employees work from home.

The order also directed Choctaw Tribal Schools to begin “immediately” working with the Bureau of Indian Education and other accreditation agencies to develop and implement distance learning to achieve completion of essential grade-level instruction for the 2019-2020 school year.

Ben also mandated that schools and the Choctaw Elderly Program keep enough staff to ensure the preparation and distribution of free and reduced meals to eligible children and elders.

All tribal employees, he said, can be granted paid leave if their job is determined to be non-critical, if they or a loved one are diagnosed with the virus, if underlying medical conditions put them at high risk of death from the virus, or if they have a minor child who is at risk, needs time to be tested or any other reason deemed necessary by their program director.

In addition to that relief, Ben has also announced that Choctaw Utilities will not cut off water service for past due accounts through at least April 1. The Choctaw Loan Program last week announced it would suspend accepting pay advances and new applications for short-term borrowing or housing rentals.

“As we go through this time of crisis,” Ben said, “I want us to come together as a people and know that we have strength, as we have had throughout our history.”

Ben also signed another executive order setting a curfew for tribal lands from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., which began Saturday.

That order calls for everyone to stay home during the specified hours, but laid out a couple of exemptions, such as for people working at their bosses’ direction or traveling to work, people seeking medical care, folks traveling to and from wake functions, first responders and anyone participating in hunting or fishing activities approved under the MCBI hunting proclamation.

“I want you to know there have been measures taken ultimately for your safety and health,” Ben said in an address to Tribal Members following the signing of the order. “I want to, first and foremost, thank our front-line workers. Healthcare workers have done an extremely good job.”