LUMMI NATION, Wash. — They hastily piled all the dumbbells and treadmills in the back of a gym to make room for 23 extra hospital beds. The beds aren’t needed yet, but on a reservation where residents suffer high rates of disease that exist throughout Indian Country, the Lummi Tribal Health Clinic is bracing for the deadly coronavirus. Two thousand miles away at the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, where 11 people have tested positive for the virus as of Friday and one has died, “We’re preparing for the worst,” Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. Health workers plan to move hospital beds into a nearby university and a job training facility shuttered because of the pandemic. “This is the worse public health crisis we’ve had in a generation.”
At the Navajo Nation that crosses three western states, 270 people were infected as of Saturday with 12 fatalities, the most in Indian Country. A shelter-in-place order was imposed by President Jonathan Nez. “Some won’t listen, but we’re doing everything we can,” Nez said. “We’re doing … road blocks, handing out … booklets to share with relatives and community members. We need everyone to take this virus seriously.” Coronavirus is ravaging the United States, but experts say more than 5 million people who identify as American Indians and Alaskan Native are especially vulnerable.
“When you look at the health disparities in Indian Country – high rates of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, asthma and then you combine that with the overcrowded housing situation where you have a lot of people in homes with an elder population who may be exposed or carriers – this could be like a wildfire on a reservation and get out of control in a heartbeat,” said Kevin Allis, chief executive of the National Congress of American Indians. “We could get wiped out,” Allis said. –Washington Post