A Cherokee Nation citizen who contracted COVID-19 has passed away. Rev. Merle Dry, 55, who died on March 19, is the first coronavirus-related death in Oklahoma.
“For months, we watched this virus from afar, and now with the passing of a Cherokee Nation citizen in Tulsa County, we hope people understand this has now hit home and is a very real pandemic that can affect anyone of us. We ask that everyone take real safety precautions and on behalf of the Cherokee Nation, our thoughts and prayers are with the Dry family at this time and we are so very sorry for this tragic loss,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr.
Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Dr. Bruce Dart released a statement as well: “It is with great sadness that I confirm that a Tulsa County resident has passed away due to COVID-19. This is a tragedy for our community. In these unprecedented times, everyone feels the weight of this loss. COVID-19 has impacted our community on a monumental level, but today I ask you to take a moment to pause and recognize that a family has lost their loved one. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.”
Hoskin recently signed a proclamation declaring a state of emergency within Cherokee Nation, empowering its agencies to maximize its tools for addressing the crisis.
Also prior to the COVID-19 related death of a Tribal member, Chief Hoskin announced the temporary suspension of all Tribal casino operations, “because saving lives is our top priority.”
“During this suspension, no casino employee will lose a paycheck,” Hoskin added.
The Cherokee Nation has additionally restricted travel and postponed community gatherings, among other precautionary measures taken.
Dry, a Tulsa County resident, tested positive for COVID-19 on March 17, according to the health department. Dry served as a groundskeeper for Oral Roberts University.
Dry leaves behind a wife and two adult children, his 22-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter. His family members are now in quarantine.
With 44 confirmed cases of coronavirus across Oklahoma, the state and Cherokee Nation are urging vigilance to prevent its spread. Meanwhile, the state is currently running low on testing kits; of 300, approximately 200 have already been used, said State epidemiologist Laurence Burnsed.
“We will monitor the pandemic closely and continually evaluate our next steps. Stay up to date with our efforts to address the impacts of COVID-19 at cherokee.org, on the Tribe’s Facebook page or by calling the COVID-19 call center at 833-528-0063,” Hoskin stated.