Menominee Tribe closing offices amid COVID-19 outbreak
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Menominee Indian Tribe said Tuesday it is shutting down its governmental offices for two weeks amid an “alarming rise” in COVID-19 cases, including tribal employees in four different departments on the reservation in northeast Wisconsin.
Employees in three other departments have had direct contact with those who tested positive, the tribe said in a statement. The tribe reported eight active cases of COVID-19 as of Monday. Its number of confirmed cases has nearly doubled in a week, the tribe said. There are about 3,600 people who live on the reservation.
“These facts threaten the ability for the Menominee Tribe to fulfill its role to serve and protect the community’s safety,” the tribe said. It also instituted a curfew starting Wednesday through the end of August for between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The governmental shutdown will not affect operations of the Menominee Casino in Keshena, about 50 miles northwest of Green Bay.
Wisconsin has seen more than 50,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 906 deaths as of Tuesday, according to the state Department of Health Services.
That death count is the 28th highest in the country overall and the 35th highest per capita at just over 15 deaths per 100,000 people.
Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases in Wisconsin has increased by 217, an increase of 31%. There were nearly 215 new cases per 100,000 people in Wisconsin over the past two weeks, which ranks 19th in the country for new cases per capita.
Also this week, the U.S. Department of Labor reversed course and said Wisconsin residents who receive disability benefits may also get unemployment benefits made available due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The labor department told the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development in a letter Monday that Pandemic Unemployment Assistance was available to people with disabilities who receive payments through Social Security Disability. That’s a reversal from the federal government’s initial interpretation of state law.
Wisconsin elected officials in Congress, Gov. Tony Evers and Department of Workforce Department Secretary Caleb Frostman had urged the federal labor department to reconsider its initial decision denying the new benefits, saying the agency was misunderstanding Wisconsin law.
Frostman had argued that because those receiving disability benefits in Wisconsin can’t also receive unemployment payments, they should not be excluded from the new federal program known as PUA. That program was created to make benefits available to the self-employed and others who don’t qualify for regular unemployment.
Frostman said in a statement that he was grateful for the change in the labor department’s interpretation of state law, which will make more people on disability payments eligible for the federal program.
Those who are eligible can receive retroactive benefits to the week ending Feb. 8 or the first week the person was out of work, whichever is later.