Native Americans continue to deal with COVID-19

Published: Dec. 3, 2020 at 8:27 AM MST
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PIERRE, S.D. (KEVN) - Native Americans make up 9% of South Dakota’s population. However, they account for 14% of South Dakota’s COVID-19 deaths and cases, according to data by John Hopkins.

That is why two Native American State Representatives, Senator Red Dawn Foster (D-Pine Ridge) and Representative Peri Pourier (D-Pine Ridge), wrote a letter to Governor Kristi Noem requesting that she put a statewide mask mandate in place. Tribal leaders argue that Native American reservations can take all the precautions necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but that is effectively null and void if the state does not do anything. Particularly because Native Americans often have to travel off the reservations to get basic goods and services.

“The letter was one of many ways that we try and plan on addressing COVID in South Dakota,” Pourier said.

The letter “implores” the Governor to “try and think of those who are vulnerable and need our protection.” Despite the letter, a spokesperson for the Governor’s office confirmed that there would be no change in the Governor’s position on a statewide mask mandate.

The reservations have taken up many COVID restrictions, enacting mask mandates and curfews. Many schools on the Reservations have not been meeting in person since March.

“We have a mask mandate and a curfew... Our stores close at 8 PM and no one except essential workers, or if you have to go to the hospital is out past 10 PM,” says State Senator Troy Heinert (D-Mission). Heinert is a citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, who also favors a statewide mask mandate.

It isn’t just the health effects from COVID-19 that contribute to the high number of cases among Native Americans. According to the CDC, Native Americans have a higher rate of chronic diseases that leave them more susceptible to the coronavirus. Native Americans also tend to live in larger households with extended family, greatening the risk of COVID-19 spread.

“We have high poverty rates, our health disparities are through the roof,” Pourier states. “We do not have an independent health food system, so these compound factors make a pandemic, (like) you’re literally facing death.”

Pourier points out that the adverse effects of COVID-19 are not unique to Native Americans on the reservation, but more broadly to any Native Americans.

“This is not unique to Native Americans on the reservation, the same is true for Native Americans living in urban areas.”

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