SISSETON, S.D. — The Sisseton Wahpeton tribe is on the verge of opening a COVID-19 quarantine facility in Sisseton, S.D.

Tribal leaders cut a ribbon Tuesday, Feb. 23, signaling the availability of the $7.2 million, 28,000-square-foot facility. When fully operational the facility will include 38 rooms for tribal members sick with COVID-19 to quarantine away from the community.

"This COVID building, it's going to help a lot of our tribal members," said Delbert Hopkins Jr., chairman of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate.

The first phase of the building, opening within days, will include 14 single-bed apartments and two two-bed units, each with a kitchen, bathroom, washer and dryer and living room. The rooms are equipped with climate control systems that are independent to the unit, to eliminate movement of the virus between rooms.

Inside one of the apartments in the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate's new $7.2 million COVID-19 quarantine facility Tuesday, Feb. 23 in Sisseton, South Dakota. Rooms were built so they don't share heating and ventilation to avoid spreading COVID-19 through the facility. Jeremy Fugleberg / Forum News Service
Inside one of the apartments in the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate's new $7.2 million COVID-19 quarantine facility Tuesday, Feb. 23 in Sisseton, South Dakota. Rooms were built so they don't share heating and ventilation to avoid spreading COVID-19 through the facility. Jeremy Fugleberg / Forum News Service

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A central hub includes a reception area, offices and a large commercial kitchen. The second wing, set to open in mid-May, will include 22 smaller units consisting of single rooms. The building is adjacent to the Sisseton Indian Health Service medical facility.

The facility will fill a crucial gap in temporary COVID-19 housing for the tribe. Now family members sick with COVID-19 will be able to isolate themselves away from sometimes large households, to reduce the chance of spreading the virus.

Crystal Owen, community planner for the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate and chairwoman of its Enemy Swim District, compared the facility to tribe-wide masking efforts as a life-saving tool.

"It's truly been horrific when we think about our relatives, our elders, who have died, who have passed away. I still can't believe it when I think about some of them, all of them. It's terrible," she said. "So now we have this building finally, that we can all work together and those that are sick, they have a place now. They have a place where they can rest, where they can be away from their family, and hopefully nobody else gets sick."

Delbert Hopkins Jr., tribal chairman of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, cuts the ribbon for the tribe's new $7.2 million COVID-19 quarantine facility on Tuesday, Feb. 23, in Sisseton, South Dakota. The facility, paid for federal pandemic relief funds, will help the tribe reduce the spread of the virus and after the pandemic, serve as a long-term substance abuse treatment facility. Jeremy Fugleberg / Forum News Service
Delbert Hopkins Jr., tribal chairman of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, cuts the ribbon for the tribe's new $7.2 million COVID-19 quarantine facility on Tuesday, Feb. 23, in Sisseton, South Dakota. The facility, paid for federal pandemic relief funds, will help the tribe reduce the spread of the virus and after the pandemic, serve as a long-term substance abuse treatment facility. Jeremy Fugleberg / Forum News Service

While the quarantine facility was paid for with pandemic relief funding and will help with the tribe's efforts to fight the spread of COVID-19, its post-pandemic life is already planned. Hopkins said the building will serve as a substance abuse long-term treatment center.

The quarantine facility was one of three buildings funded by federal pandemic relief funds received by the tribe last year. The tribe renovated and expanded a food pantry for $1.2 million in Agency Village and is nearing completion of a nearby $2.8 million day care facility. The day care is set to open by the end of March, according to Wisconsin-based Consolidated Construction Co Inc., the construction company that did the work for the three buildings.

Hopkins said it was a point of pride that the tribe saw the construction of the buildings through, from start to finish, across tribal administrations (Hopkins was elected to his position last year).

"That's how it should be, instead of starting things and not following through," he said. "That gives Indian Country a bad name."

A key component was a tribal member working with the builders to make sure nothing fell through the cracks during construction, he said.

While vaccine distribution and administration has reportedly going well in Indian Country, the fight against the virus is far from over. At the facility event, members of the Sisseton Wahpeton Tribal COVID-19 response team said they had just heard reports of COVID-19 among two more families, sparking concerns of another surge in the virus. If that comes, the tribe now has an additional tool to protect itself from COVID-19.