Tribal health board: Native Americans hit hard by COVID-19

RAPID CITY (AP) – Native American people are being disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, accounting for over half of the confirmed cases in one South Dakota county, according to data from the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board released on Friday.

Tribal leaders have long been concerned that the coronavirus could decimate their members because many are elderly and have existing health problems. Data from two large Rapid City health care providers reveals that 53% of people with confirmed cases in Pennington County are tribal members, the Rapid City Journal reported. Statewide, Native Americans account for 14% of all cases, while they make up about 9% of the population.

“This shocking revelation must serve as a warning for our people and as a wake-up call to the city, state and federal governments to take immediate steps to slow its spread among our people,” said Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board CEO Jerilyn Church in a video message.

The organization, which operates a clinic in Rapid City and advocates for improved health care for Native Americans, said it collected data from Monument Health and the Great Plains Tribal Epidemiology Center. It also held its first mass testing event last weekend, which revealed that three of the 200 people tested had the COVID-19 virus. Church said the organization is planning two more mass testing events in the coming weeks.

Tribal leaders have argued that Native American communities need to be vigilant against outbreaks, especially because South Dakota has not issued a statewide lockdown during the pandemic. They fear that COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, could be deadly for tribal communities, where multiple generations often live together in one household.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Several tribes have set up coronavirus checkpoints to keep unnecessary visitors from the reservation. But state and federal authorities argue the checkpoints are not approved and block access to U.S. and state highways.

So far, tribes in South Dakota have not seen major outbreaks, although many Native Americans frequently travel between Rapid City and the reservations.


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