COVID kills Native Americans at higher rates than other groups

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Team Rubicon volunteer EMT Hannah Tellier, of Boston, performs a COVID-19 test in the emergency room at Kayenta Health Center on the Navajo Reservation in Kayenta, Arizona.

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COVID-19 killed Native Americans at a rate 2.8 times that of whites last year, according to a new study, before vaccines became widely available. The death rate from the disease among the group was also “considerably higher” than that of the black and Latino populations.

The study found that Native Americans living on rural reservations were at greater risk of dying from COVID-19, possibly due to poor living conditions and inadequate access to health care, researchers said in their report. article published on November 17 in the journal Demographic Research.

Meanwhile, limited data suggests Native Americans have the highest vaccination rates in the country, which could prevent further COVID-19 infections and deaths in the group, especially as more coronavirus variants emerge.

The findings add to a relatively small pool of data on the group – comprising people who identify as Native American or Alaska Native – who have long been disproportionately affected by poverty, insecurity. food and poor health outcomes from several diseases such as the heart and kidneys. sickness.

“A lack of reliable data” still prevents the world from knowing the true extent of the risks Native Americans face during the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers say.

“The overall set of factors associated with high deaths from COVID-19 are largely the same as those that have been identified to increase the vulnerability of Native Americans to a multitude of diseases across generations,” study author Noreen Goldman, professor of demography and public affairs at Princeton University in New Jersey, said in a press release. “The high death rates from COVID-19 among Native Americans are a stark reminder of the legacy of historic abuse and the continued failure of governments to meet the basic needs of this population. “

The team analyzed 2020 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the census and national surveys from Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin – the states with the largest Native American populations.

They also measured risk factors for COVID-19 such as poverty, health insurance coverage, frontline worker status, prevalence of health problems, smoking status and housing conditions.

Native Americans disproportionately affected in many areas

Overall, Native Americans are more likely to face socio-economic and health-related risk factors for COVID-19 than black, Latino and white Americans, according to the researchers.

For example, many Native Americans live in overcrowded multigenerational households that facilitate the spread of the coronavirus. Some tribes also still live on reservations, many of which are in remote areas far from health services such as COVID-19 testing and treatment.

Numerous advocacy groups, including the National Congress of American Indian, have expressed concern over such struggles and abuse. In October 2020, the NCAI said it was “extremely disturbed to learn” that tribal members infected with the coronavirus from Cheyenne River Sioux in South Dakota were required to travel more than seven hours to Minnesota to “access healthcare appropriate hospitals “when the state claimed to have enough beds.

Since the 1950s, nearly 80% of Native Americans have left reservations voluntarily or by coercion, according to the study. But the proportion varies depending on the location. In South Dakota and Montana, more than 60% of Native Americans live on reservations, compared to less than 5% in Texas, Alaska, Florida and Colorado.

Many Native Americans also lack access to health insurance other than the Indian Health Service (IHS), “a chronically underfunded health system for nationally recognized tribes and part of the US Public Health Service.” , note the researchers. The group is under-represented among Medicaid users, and it “often faces[s] discrimination and language barriers in non-IHS and non-tribal health facilities.

Poverty rates among Native Americans also exceed those of the general population, reaching 40% for some, according to the study.

The Navajo Nation – the largest reservation in the United States that was one of the worst affected populations at the start of the pandemic – is home to about 40% of families without running water, “a serious concern for the overall quality of life. but a critical risk factor for the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19, ”the researchers said.

Native Americans also have the “poorest health profile in terms of susceptibility to COVID-19,” they said, with the highest prevalence of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, smoking and kidney disease by compared to black, Latino and white populations.

This story was originally published 3 December 2021 14:06.

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Katie Camero is a McClatchy National Real-Time Science reporter. She is a Boston University alumnus and has reported for the Wall Street Journal, Science, and The Boston Globe.

Nohemi M. Moore