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Tribal Affairs

Native Americans Account For 13 Percent Of Montana COVID-19 Cases

Nurses administer a nasal swab to test people for the COVID-19 illness at a surveillance testing event in Crow Agency May 27, 2020.
Nicky Ouellet
/
Yellowstone Public Radio
Nurses administer a nasal swab to test people for the COVID-19 illness at a surveillance testing event in Crow Agency May 27, 2020.

Last weekend, Montana saw its biggest spike yet in COVID-19 cases. YPR reports how the disease is impacting Native Americans across the state.

As of Jun. 29, more than 900 people in Montana have had confirmed cases of COVID-19. Native Americans account for 13 percent of the cases even though they make up less than seven percent of the state’s population.

“American Indian populations throughout the whole state are not being disproportionately impacted. What we have is a localized outbreak in one area of the state. That’s the Crow reservation and Big Horn area. They are being disproportionately impacted,” Jim Murphy with the Montana Department of Health and Human Services said.

Aaron Wernham, CEO of the nonprofit Montana Healthcare Foundation, said Native families are more susceptible to COVID-19 because multiple generations of a family often live in the same home.

“So you've got elders who are particularly vulnerable to getting severe COVID infections, living with a large family, with younger people who may be out and about more,” Wernham said.

He said the exact impact of the pandemic on Indigenous people is difficult to track, not only because of inconsistent reporting but also because so many agencies work together to serve the tribes.

“You've got a mix of the Indian Health Service, which is the federal agency that provides a lot of health services, private hospitals and then the county government health agencies, which are doing a lot of the data collection along with the tribal health departments. So that's a very complicated health system, and so coordination is incredibly important,” Wernham said.

Across the state, tribal nations have taken measures to protect their members and reservations. The Crow Tribe extended their Stay Home Order until Jul. 15, and the Northern Cheyenne extended their shutdown until Jul. 10. This weekend, the Blackfeet Nation announced a new 14 day Stay Home Order.