There are indications that some Native American populations are facing a disproportionate brunt of the COVID-19 epidemic with higher infection and mortality rates than the overall U.S. population. The Navajo have had more people infected with the coronavirus per capita than any state in the country.
Long before COVID-19 hit, American Indian tribal lands already made daily life difficult for these living on reservations. Many are attributing the elevated number of cases in tribal communities to existing health disparities, crowded housing conditions, and water access issues that health experts fear could facilitate a devastating spread of the virus. Many Native Americans live crowded in small homes where social distancing is impossible. Additionally, 40% of those living on the reservation lack running water, according to Kathleen Norton of the Center for American Indian Health at Johns Hopkins University.
During this pandemic, Catholic parishes around tribal communities have kept facilities open to the public, so that people can access potable water. The Daughters of Charity living in Tuba City, Arizona have been involved in food distribution to the hungry, and funding the electricity bills of those in need.
Hospitals on the reservations have been overwhelmed, so some non-critical COVID-19 patients have been moved to overflow quarantine facilities in high school gyms, while many others are sent to Flagstaff, Arizona or Gallup, New Mexico for treatment. But, transportation is not easy in the reservation, and we cannot ignore that hundreds of miles of roads are unpaved, so it can take up to three hours to get a sick person to help.
And it’s not just the deadly virus outbreaks these tribal nations are battling. Rather, they are also grappling with the economic devastation caused by the protracted shutdown of nearly 500 tribally-owned casinos.
This is happening right in the middle of the powerful nation in the world. Improving quality of life for the first citizens of this country needs to be a priority.
If you want to help, you can sign this petition to demand Congress expedite substantial funds and resources to tribal nations battling COVID-19.
Written by Sister Michelle Loisel, D.C.