MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe has confirmed its first coronavirus (COVID-19) case.

On Monday evening, Mille Lacs Band Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin announced the news to the tribe, saying a band member tested positive for the virus. The band member lives in District I, which is the main reservation on the west side of Mille Lacs Lake.

“I want to report that so you understand that it’s very important to take all the necessary precautions we’ve been doing in the last few months,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin says protocols in place, including contact tracing, have gone into effect to assist the band member and any household members to protect the community.

The confirmed case was announced on the same day the tribe released plans for a “phased approach” to reopen its two Grand Casino locations, which have been closed for nearly three months due to the pandemic.

The plan includes new restrictive safety measures, including new entrance procedures, PPE, social distancing guidelines and cleaning/sanitation enhancements — amongst other procedures. No reopening date has been decided on yet.

The band is instead asking band members for their thoughts, using a survey, on reopening the casinos with severe safety restrictions.

“We want to know your opinion about whether the Band should proceed with opening the casinos with severe safety restrictions in place, because you are the ultimate stakeholders,” the band said.

Tribal officials emphasize that the top priority is the safety of band members — especially elders and children — despite financial hardship and changes due to the continued closure.

Meanwhile, Mystic Lake and Little Six casinos will reopen with a similar “phased approach” method on May 26, starting with slot machines and table games areas.

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