Spokane Journal of Business

COVID-19 hits big West Plains employers

Fairchild reports first case; Kalispels shutter most operations

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(UPDATED at 7:45 a.m. Pacific with new information about the Northern Quest patron)

Coronavirus has affected two of the Spokane area’s largest employers, both based on the West Plains.

Fairchild Air Force Base disclosed last night that one of its active-duty airmen had tested positive for COVID-19, and Col. Derek Salmi, the base commander, has declared and public health emergency.

Hours before that, the Kalispel Tribe of Indians announced it has closed its retail, restaurant, and entertainment for at least two weeks after being notified that a patron who visited one of its casinos on March 9 had tested positive for the virus.

The Spokane Regional Health District since has informed the tribe that the patron in question wasn't infectious during the visit to Northern Quest. That information, however, has had no bearing on the decision to close the venue temporarily. 

Fairchild is the largest employer in the Spokane area, with 5,935 employees as of late last year, according to the Journal’s Largest Spokane County Employers list. The Kalispel tribe ranked eighth on the list, with 1,931 employees.

At Fairchild, health officials have begun notifying individuals who have come in contact with the affected individual. According to a press release, that individual is “in isolation” at an off-base residence.

The emergency declaration at the base gives Salmi the authority to restrict movement of personnel and access to the base. However, Master Sgt. John Ayre, of Fairchild’s public affairs office, says that no measures to restrict movement or access, beyond typical protocols, had been taken as of Tuesday morning, March 17.

Seven miles east of Fairchild, the Kalispel tribe’s Northern Quest Resort & Casino went dark last night, as did its Kalispel Golf and Country Club, just northwest of Spokane; its Fatburger restaurant, on the North Side; and its Kalispel Casino, in Cusick, Washington, about 60 miles north of Northern Quest.

The tribe’s Kalispel Linen Services, Kalispel Market convenience stores, and Camas Health Clinic will remain open for business.

Julie Holland, Northern Quest’s public relations director, says the country club and Fatburger are subject to Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate to close all restaurants and entertainment venues because they aren’t located on tribal trust land. The Kalispel Tribal Council voluntarily closed the casinos, even though they aren’t subject to the governor’s mandate.

“We believe it’s incumbent upon all of us to take responsibility for social distancing,” Holland says.

The tribe will pay all of its employees for the two weeks its operations are closed.


Linn  Parish
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Editor Linn Parish has worked for newspapers and magazines since 1996, with the bulk of that time being at the Journal. A Montana boy who has called Spokane home for some time now, Linn likes Northwest trails, Deep South foods, and lead changes in the ninth inning.

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