The CDC Doesn't Know Enough About Coronavirus In Tribal Nations

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In August more than five months into the pandemic Jordan. Bennett. was about to see some data she'd waiting for for a long time. Yeah. No a truly I was really excited because there hasn't been any data on American Indians or Alaska natives since the start of the pandemic from the CDC that's right. Until last month while universities had released a good bit of data about Covid and its effect on some. Native, American and Alaskan natives. The CDC really hadn't Jordan would know she's a reporter and editor with the Public Media News organization Indian country today she's also a citizen of the Navajo nation and she's been covering the pandemic since the beginning as well as a twenty twenty census and all of Indian, country no big deal just all of Indian country Yeah. The whole. That data that she'd been waiting to? was released by the government as part of a weekly CDC report in mid August the title of the top red. COVID nineteen among American Indian and Alaska Native Persons in twenty three states and when i read it, it was Kinda already something that I knew and a lot of native public health experts already knew and what I was really looking for is you know what is new that they gave to us the report said because of existing inequities, native Americans and Alaskan natives are three point five times more likely to get the corona virus than white people but anyone who'd been looking at tribal nations as closely as Jordan had could have told you that they were. Being hit especially hard for example, at one point earlier this year, the Navajo nation, which spans parts of Arizona New Mexico and Utah The nation's now reporting nearly four thousand in nineteen cases in a population of one hundred, seventy, five thousand had an infection rate greater the New York State. Eight PM curfews on weekdays and on weekends a fifty seven hour lockdown, not even the gas stations are open. That was just one tribal nation that got a lot of attention. Many others had infection rates that were also higher than the hard hit states in the northeast like the Colorado River Indian tribes in Arizona and California the Yakima in Washington state or the White Mountain Apache tribe in Arizona. And data from the states where many of those reservations are located weren't included in the CDC report, which gets it a larger problem. If there's data had you know where the impact is, how do you know where you could send testing to where there's a lack testing? You have to have that data in order to create policies into also figured out how to distribute vaccines. This episode was the CDC does and doesn't know about Covid in native American and Alaskan. Native tribal nations and how Jordan is working to get more data to the people who need it most I mattie Safai and you're listening to shortwave from NPR. This report from the CDC which linked to in our episode notes does say two important things. The fact that native Americans and Alaskan natives are more likely to get the virus. That's one. The second thing is that compared to white people young folks in those communities people under eighteen tested positive at higher rates. When it comes to these findings, the CDC did make one thing clear. Here's one of the researchers on the study, Sarah Hatcher it really important that the. This disproportionate impact. Likely driven by versus stinks social and economic inequity not because of some biological or genetic. Persisting social and economic inequities we're talking about access to healthy food housing income levels, stuff like that. Here's Jordan again the and other just like public health infrastructure or in like the lack of investment in the public health infrastructures in native communities and you have over credit households, anders a number of inequities that this pandemic is bringing out. More on that in a bit. But first Jordan says that the CDC report is notable for what it does not include this report did leave out tons of cases right now it only looked at twenty three states and it didn't include Arizona. Is One of the hot spots in Indian country. And they account for at least a third of all the cove nineteen cases according to the report. They also left out states like Oklahoma Washington. California Colorado thousands and thousands of cases. And researchers from the CDC were up front about leaving all that data out. Here's Sara Hatcher. Again, our announcement is really not generalize beyond those twenty three state overall. And we're not really able to speculate whether we expect the overall rate to be higher or lower we. The reason some states got left out was because the they recorded about race and ethnicity including that for native, American, and Alaskan Native Cova Cases was incomplete and that was really at least surprising to me because. I like how can you not capture this data right here you have Arizona where you know again, the Salt River Pima, Maricopa Indian community Healer River, ending community, White Mountain Apache their cases are thousands You had the tone, nation and Navajo Nation and the possibly Yawkey tribe. There's just thousands of cases in this one St. So many gaps like in this data as well. I think just points to how the CDC doesn't really know tribal communities and know that Indian health system and how it's built instead up. So, let's talk about that. Now. It's much more complicated than this. But basically, when tribal nation signed treaties giving up their land, the federal government promised to provide them with healthcare and set up the Indian Health Service, a government funded network of hospitals and clinics. To deliver adequate healthcare to tribal nations but that's not what's happening right now and what the pandemic is very much highlighting. For years the IHS has been way underfunded per person the federal government spends about half the amount of money on the IHS. Medicaid. And that's part of the reason a lot of tribes over time have step to establish their own privately run tribal health clinics. So throw history. They all IHS. But then tribes wanted to you know take hold and own and operate their own healthcare. So that's how these tribal health clinics came about. At this point, the large majority of healthcare facilities are operated by tribes about eighty percent in those facilities are encouraged but not required to share data that they collect on the virus but Jordan says, that's something a lot of them do not want to do not with the federal government or even with reporters like her even now as a Navajo WOM-. In as a Navajo reporter, it's also difficult for me to try to get the data. Because then I understand that like I grew up around my background is in health and so I I know you know it's because of settler colonialism but also research to a lot of times and medical research you have researchers going in parachuting in parachuting out and they don't give back that data it at least from everything that I've seen the past several months trust is like the main factor in this That's one thing trust. There's also the reality that doctors can get race or ethnicity wrong in California where it's pretty prevalent from what sources tell me some doctors will just check a box on native people because of their surname, their surnames, more likely to be coming from like a Hispanic or line next or origin like Dominguez or Garcia or you know today's assumed there Um Latin x but they're not, and if those people wind up dying that seem incorrect data can wind up on their death certificate right? You don't know what's going on or the pact of the pandemic if you don't have that data if you don't know what the person died from. How are you going to prevent it and prevent more from dying from it? These factors lack of trust underfunded public health infrastructure, racial classification all add up to a picture of the pandemic that isn't complete. For example, there's an alarming lack of covid hospitalizations data for native American or Alaskan native folks stuff like if somebody was admitted to the hospital, the ICU or even died compared to white people, CDC only has about a third of that information for Alaskan natives and native Americans and I think that's just again it just goes back to how well you know the state health department or even like the CDC or the public health experts they're not these tribal communities

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