Robert Washington

Robert Washington, seen here with his daughter, passed away from COVID-19 within two weeks after returning to work at the Lone Butte Casino in Chandler, which has now closed for two weeks as a result.

Gila River Hotels & Casinos has shut down for two weeks to review safety standards and disinfect properties after the COVID-19 related death last week of a security employee.

“The decision came after a careful evaluation of the growing enterprise’s current safety plan with the Gila River Indian Community Council and feedback from its community and team members,” according to a statement made by Gila River Hotels & Casinos.

The closure affects all three tribal properties: Wild Horse Pass and Lone Butte in Chandler and Vee Quiva in Phoenix.

The family of casino security worker Robert Washington told a local television station last week that he had diabetes and was uneasy returning to work in May, but he felt he had no choice because he otherwise couldn’t afford his insulin.

“He was absolutely fearful for his future,” Washington’s daughter told the station. “There was no social distancing as he explained to me, there was no active sanitation.”

All employees of Gila River Hotels & Casinos will be on paid leave during the two-week period and will continue to receive employee benefits.

“Nothing is more important to our community than the well-being of our team members and guests, children, elders and families,” Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community said in a statement. 

“Like our sister tribes and businesses all over Arizona, we tried to do what is best for all, while processing new information and new guidelines about the pandemic with little in the way of definitive guidance,” he said.

Lewis said all of Washington’s co-workers who were in direct contact with him have tested negative for the coronavirus.

Lewis also issued an executive order mandating wearing masks on community lands and allowing tribal government employees to seek paid leave for up to 60 days if they have one of the underlying health conditions that makes them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

As of Thursday, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 43,443 cases of COVID-19 and 1,271 deaths in the state. It said 517,666 tests for COVID-19 have been completed as in public and private labs in Arizona, and 7.5 percent of tests have come back positive for the virus.

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