How Oklahoma’s Native American community has been disproportionately affected during this pandemic

In the United States, minority groups have been struck harder by the novel coronavirus than any other segment of the society. One of those groups are the Native Americans that have faced the worst with this pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Native Americans are 1.8 times more likely to be tested positive for Covid, 4 times likely to be hospitalized and 2.6 times more likely to have died because of Covid-19. Oklahoma is a state with a predominantly white population but also houses a significant Native American population. According to data from the Covid Tracking Project (CTP), Native Americans have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 both in the number of cases and deaths in Oklahoma.

While Native Americans only make about 9% of the total population in Oklahoma, 7,645 per 100,000 cases of Covid-19 come from the Native American community and 61 out of 100,000 deaths are from the community as well. These are the highest numbers out of all racial groups in Oklahoma. Compared to this, 4,778 per 100,000 cases are white individuals, which make about 72% of Oklahoma’s total population, while 52 per 100,000 deaths come from them due to Covid-19.

According to the Indian Health Services (IHS), 31,999 positive cases, the highest in the data, were reported in the Oklahoma City IHS area. Native Americans have had the lower end of health status as compared to other Americans. According to the IHS, the cause of lower life expectancy and disproportionate disease positives could be due to the unfair and unequal social structure in the United States that always puts Native Americans at a disadvantage, whether that’s inadequate healthcare systems, poverty or poor education.

What is alarming though is that despite having a disadvantage in healthcare, Native Americans are usually left missing or undercounted in data.  In most cases, they are grouped together in the “other” section.

In the midst of all this, one tribe in Oklahoma has managed to control Covid cases in their nation, despite the lack of help and support from the state itself. The Cherokee Nation understood the importance of strict actions in order to contain the spread of Covid-19. At the time that the state of Oklahoma took no strict action for a mask mandate and allowed schools to function normally, Cherokee Nation called for strict mask measures and moved schools virtually in order to keep the children and teachers safe.

To help with the recent shift to virtual working and due to poor internet connection in Cherokee Nation, a $3million project will provide internet to citizens to help them during this time, according to KTUL.

Most of their healthcare is funded through their revenue from gaming. This makes a large chunk of total revenue and most of it is now being spent on trying to beat the pandemic. Due to the lockdown, casinos had to be shutdown, while they reopened for a while when measures were made flexible, with limited spaces, point to a bigger question of depleting resources and what is going to happen in the near future.

On December 14, Cherokee Nation announced that the first 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine had arrived and that distribution would begin this week. Like in most other states, their Phase 1 priority are frontline health workers, first responders, Cherokee speakers, National Treasures and elders.


Covid-19 in New Mexico: “It’s almost criminal to let [Native Americans] die at such a high rate”

As the country braced for a second wave of COVID-19 cases, the rates at which Indian American and Alaskan Natives were being impacted became alarming.

In New Mexico, a state where this part of the population is only about 11% of the state total, they accounted for 21.50% of all COVID-19 cases by early November, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project.

The numbers become even more chilling when looking at the total number of deaths, as the percentage of Native American and Alaska Natives (AIAN) was almost half (44.66%). Even by national standards, that is notably high: the US average number of COVID-19 AIAN deaths per 100 people is 95, but that number jumps to 332 when looking at New Mexico alone.

“I feel like it’s almost criminal to let them die at such a high rate,” Jagdish Khubchandani, Professor of Public Health at New Mexico State University said.

Rate of COVIF-19 related AIAN Deaths per 100,000 people in different states. New Mexico has the secong highest rate (332) of the states that report this data, preceded only by Mississipi (682). Data from the COVID Tracking Project (13/12/2020).

Systemic issues that lead to poor healthcare and lack of access to basic services have put these communities at a disadvantage from the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Pandemics are not made in a day. Pandemics are made in decades. And preparedness is also not done in a day,” Khubchandani said. “[New Mexico] was a poor state before the pandemic, with such a diverse population that had chronically underfunded health systems. I think what we have is the sin of the past punishing us now. We have never prepared to deal with the pandemic nationwide.”

Abigail Echo-Hawk, M.A., Director of the Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) and chief research officer of Seattle Indian Health Board has been advocating for the importance of better systems of data collection about American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

“We have seen an underinvestment of public health systems and public health surveillance systems for many many years and we are seeing what happens when you don’t invest in public health,” Echo-Hawk said. “I feel like screaming about this for more than twenty years because we knew this kind of impact was happening in our communities, and for the very first time people are finally acknowledging it.”

The data for New Mexico seems alarming, but Echo-Hawk paints a graver picture. The actual amount of the AIAN population affected might be even higher because of racial misclassification, which results in the underreporting of race and ethnicity data for the AIAN population. A 2014 study by the CDS and Indian Health Service (IHS) found just that: there were “significant underestimates” of mortality estimates within the AIAN population.

“When you talk about the incredible amount of death that is showing on the current data trackers what we have to know is that is actually, in a very horrific way, a gross underreporting, because we know that death certificates are very often racially misclassified,” Echo-Hawk said. “There’s a very common saying for those of us that work in Indian country on data: that we are born native and we die white because we are racially misclassified on death certificates.”

This underrepresentation is a result in part of faulty racial classification systems in place in hospitals, according to Echo-Hawk.

“People instead of asking race and ethnicity will look at somebody who’s checking into a clinic, who’s come in for an appointment, being hospitalized or has died and decide what race or ethnicity they are without asking families and not asking the individual,” she said. 

Across the US, many counties and states fall short of collecting all the health data necessary to keep track of how different communities are affected. In some cases, only a few options will be available for race — mixing all the rest together.

“The ‘other’ category effectively hides all other racial and ethnic groups,” Echo-Hawk said. “I call that a trash category. It is meaningless, it shows nothing and is an excuse for jurisdictions to say ‘well, we did our best’. That is effectively creating a category that hides the disparities of racial and ethnic groups.”

The chart below shows the total numbers of cases by race in New Mexico, in early November. About 21.50% were American Indian/ Alaskan Native. Data from the COVID Tracking Project (04/11/2020).

The chart below shows the total numbers of deaths by race in New Mexico, in early November. About 44.66% were American Indian/ Alaskan Native. The second most significat category is Latinx, followed by white. Data from the COVID Tracking Project (04/11/2020).

To understand the devastating effects of the pandemic on the AIAN population, Khubchandani says we have to look at both pre-causation factors and pandemic response issues.

“Much of what’s happening now with these populations and New Mexico is because of the historic underfunding and being historically marginalized,” Khubchandani said. “These are people who have very poor air quality. They don’t have water to wash their hands. They don’t have the resources and the money to buy materials, and they are getting sicker at a younger age, dying at a younger age than the national average. In part, because they have so many medical complications (…), which is related to poverty.”

Pamelya Herndon, 1st Vice-President of NAACP Albuquerque branch, pointed out one single issue as one of the most impactful in the spread of COVID-19 within AIAN populations.

“The biggest problem that we’ve seen with respect to the Native American population is there’s not enough running water,” Herndon said.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that the average poverty rate in New Mexico for the past 12 months is 18.2% for the general population and 30% for 18.2%.

A 2018 Report by the New Mexico Department of Health found that when asked about their general health status white adults (16.6%) reported a significantly lower prevalence of fair or poor health than AIAN (24.8%). The same study indicated that AIAN adults had a significantly higher prevalence of obesity (42.8%) than all other races/ethnicities and that diagnosed diabetes was higher among AIAN (20.7%) than among White adults (9.6%).

These health socio-economic disparities felt by this population are co-related to the pandemic outcomes.

“These marginalized populations are more likely to not only contract Covid but to have extreme complications and to die,” Echo-Hawk said. “Health disparities are based on your socio-economic environment: Whether or not you have access to transportation, whether you have access to housing, whether or not there’s been gentrification in your neighborhood, whether or not you’re homeless.”

Access to healthcare is harder, not only because of geographic factors, for many who live in more remote areas, but also for cultural reasons. This means many of the COVID patients from AIAN communities who reach the hospital will already be in a more severe condition.

“Imagine if you have fever right now and you have to go 15 miles to see a doctor, most likely we’ll just let it go,” Khubchandani said. “Most of them seem to be living in areas where there’s no healthcare. It could be an urban neglected area or a tribal area where there’s no health care. And then it’s hard to reach out to the community. They have their own clanship and clan systems where they heal each other. Traditional medicine outreach has been weak.”

Communication is also a major issue, Khubchandani warned. While he believes New Mexico has fared somewhat good in this aspect, there is still a lot to be desired, especially when it comes to reaching out to people living in remote areas, who for example might not have a cellphone or speak English.

“The primary ways of communication on the Indian reservation is through radio,” Herndon pointed out. 

Entities such as the Indian health service, which falls within the Department of Health and Human Services, play a crucial role in this outreach, but their jobs are hindered by the resources they lack.

“They have tried to do some word of the mouth, local flyers, and local info, but it’s not been aggressive enough,” Khubchandani said. “They have to be very aggressive. But that’s a difficult population to reach out to.”

Herndon said that there’s only so much the state can do in terms of requiring certain populations to follow their protocols.

“You have to remember that the reservations are independent nations, Herndon said. ”We do we really respect the fact that we have a nation within our own community that operates independently.”

Khubchandani believes that, while it’s one of the poorest states in the country, New Mexico’s overall response to the pandemic, on a larger scale has been exemplary when compared to other states — especially given that it’s working with very limited responses. The governor’s action has been stern, taking extreme measures when needed.

“I think New Mexico again is a role model, (…) given so many preexisting disadvantages, whereas I think there are places that had so much advantage and they messed up,” he said. “We have hard populations to reach out to. Navajo nations are not easy to deal with. But still, they did what they could.”


Latinx people are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in Colorado.

After suspecting that she had caught the coronavirus, Juliette, an employee at the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado, who did not wish to reveal her surname, went to get tested for the coronavirus. Her results came back negative. A few days later, she ended up in the hospital because of the virus, and so did her dad.

Job loss, evictions, lack of access to mental health, and wellness support. These are all realities and consequences of COVID-19 for many families across the United States. Yet evidence shows that the virus continues to excessively affect people of color.

Data suggests that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Latinx communities across the country. An average Latinx person is three times more likely to contract the deadly virus compared to a white person. The disproportionate rates of infection have been particularly obvious in the state of Colorado.

For Juliette and her Latinx colleagues at the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado, this does not come as a surprise.

“She works part-time for us, but she also works part-time at a restaurant,” said Rachel Griego, the Vice President of Philanthropy for the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado. “she lives with her parents and her brother.”

Even though Latinx people make up an estimated 22% of the population in Colorado, they make up 38% of the total coronavirus cases in the state. The graph below shows that cases among Latinx people in Colorado are comparable to cases among White people who make up to 87.1% of the population.

Cases are especially high in Latinx communities in Denver, where they make up over 52% of total cases. Latinx deaths are also disproportionately higher in Colorado, as indicated in the graph below.

Why cases and death numbers are so high amongst Latinx people can be broken down to three main reasons: Being essential workers, cultural and language barriers, and existing inequalities which are exacerbated through the pandemic.

Latinx people are more likely to be essential workers 

The high number of COVID-19 cases in Latinx communities could be attributed to the minimal work from home opportunities many Latinx people have. According to UnidosUS, The median household income for Latinx families in Colorado is almost $20,000 less than the state median of $71,953 at only $55,206 and the poverty rate for Latinx people sits at 12.9%, in comparison to the state average of 6.2%.

“It definitely exacerbated a lot of the disparities that already exist in the communities,” said Griego. “It sort of lifted that veil that had been on for a very long time, and has been where people know there are issues and challenges but don’t really know them until they start seeing these large numbers come out.”

According to a survey conducted by Latino Decisions, more than 45% of Latinx workers in Colorado had experienced a cut in work hours or pay because of the coronavirus and 62% of respondents were worried about someone in their family or themselves losing their jobs.

“Economic assistance was the main need at first,” said Krueger. “People were losing their jobs and not being able to get funding for anything.”

According to the Pew Research Centre, an estimated 8 million Hispanic people in the United States were employed in essential services, including restaurants, hotels, and the service sector that put them at higher risk of job loss.

“A lot of them are what you call essential workers,” said Griego. “We’re talking about the people who are still continuing to put food on the table for our communities, whether they’re farmworkers or whether they are retail operators.”

Griego says that many people in the Latino community do not have the luxury to work from home, and are more likely to be exposed to getting COVID-19 due to their occupation.

“They’re not in those types of occupations that allow them to be at home and not to be exposed,” Griego said. “They’re also more likely to take public transportation, there were probably people who were getting COVID as a result of having to take the bus or having to take the metro, they had to make money.”

Cultural differences and language barriers

Another factor that plays a role in a large amount of COVID-19 cases among the Latinx community in Colorado can be related to their number of people who live in one household.

“Our community generally lives in multigenerational households. So you have young children, and you also have older adults in the same house,” said Griego. “It’s economic reasons, but a lot of it is just cultural reasons as well.”

A survey by Latino Decisions shows that the majority of Latinx Coloradan residents do not trust English media on information related to the Coronavirus. Griego believes that the existing messaging about COVID-19 has not been effective with the Latinx community and that it is important that the English speaking Latinx community is working together to make messaging more impactful for people who may have a language barrier.

“You’re trying to talk to someone and it’s not resonating with them, It’s a white person telling me to do X, Y and Z, I don’t know who you are, and I don’t trust you,” Griego said.

Griego believes that there is a lot of misinformation within the community about the coronavirus, which may have contributed to the high amount of cases.

“They don’t think that they’re going to get it, there’s misinformation out there through social media and other things,” Griego said. “There’s also cultural values and religion, I think that there’s some deep-rooted things that we fall back on, in terms of remedies and keeping our families safe, and for a pandemic and how COVID spreads, it just doesn’t work.”

Currently, the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado actively working on resources and ways to minimize the misinformation and send correct messaging on the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We worked to do some culturally responsive lists and making sure that people felt comfortable with where you send them to seek out these resources,” Krueger said. “We know everyone is struggling, but if you go somewhere where the person can’t even speak the same language as you, you’re not going to have a good experience.

When we look at deaths by ethnicity, we see a larger number of Hispanic deaths, as shown in the graph below.

Although a high number of White deaths are also shown, according to Marisa Krueger, the Coordinator of Evaluation and Events at the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado, many Latinx people identify as being White instead of Latinx which can also be confusing for the data.

“So there’s the white, non-Hispanic, and then there are the Hispanic all races and so that really muddles the data for Latinos as a whole,” Krueger said. “Our data gets a little muddled because a lot of Hispanic folks still identify as white as their main identifier.”

How COVID exacerbated the technical divide

A report by Colorado Future Centre estimated that there are almost 55,000 school-aged children in Colorado who do not have reliable internet connections in their homes, and more than 75% of them are from a Hispanic background. Many of these school-aged children, also have parents who work in companies that do not allow them to work from home. An estimated 57% of these parents are considered essential workers.

An executive order by Governor Polis asked all schools in Colorado to close on March 18th. Although schools had the opportunities later to open up, many districts had already decided to move their teaching completely online.

“So we have a single lady that was fired from her job in June, she couldn’t even have her kids go to school because she couldn’t pay the rent and she lives in a mobile home,” said Maria Gonzalez, the founder of the Adelante Community Development Team. “They shut down the internet, so no communication, and she could not afford to have a cell phone.”

In response to these technical barriers, Colorado state filed a petition which urged Federal Communications Commission to waive restrictions on federally funded broadband access in student homes. The petition hoped to extend the access of internet connectivity to student’s homes.  Colorado’s Commissioner of Education, Katy Anthes, also announced in September that the state will invest $2 million in coronavirus relief funds to ensure that all students have access to the necessary resources which will allow them to study from home.

The state is also working closely with large telecommunications companies, to provide a free hotspot for families of students. T-mobile is working on providing 100GB of data a year for low-income families which will be available for the next five years.

For Gonzalez, she believes that the most important thing the state can do is to include Latinx people in decision making and conversations.

“People are making decisions where we are not a part of, and we’re not being acknowledged, we’re not being validated. It’s time we have a seat on the table and talks about it,” she said. “As members of the community, we contribute, we pay taxes we work, there is so much we contribute to, but where is our support?”



Lack of Information Contributes to Disproportionate COVID-19 Rates Among Oregon Latino Population

by Serafina Smith

The disproportionate effect the coronavirus pandemic has had on Oregon’s Latino community is taking its toll. And the strain is not confined to those infected. Community health workers, doctors, and others in the community have been bottlenecked into a front-line of Spanish-language and culturally-appropriate aid to those affected by the virus, who often do not know how to access help in the predominantly white, English-speaking state. “It’s just really overwhelming,” said Anakaren Gutierrez Sandoval, a community health worker with the non-profit group Oregon Latino Health Coalition. “That’s the best way I can describe it. Everyone is just at max capacity.”

While they make up about 13% of the population of Oregon, Latino Oregonians account for over 39% of coronavirus infections in the state. Several factors contribute to this – such as crowded housing, an overrepresentation of Latinos as essential workers, and lack of access to healthcare – but a leading consideration is the lack of information available to the community. While information on social distancing and mask-wearing seems to abound for English-speakers, resources in Spanish can be scarce.

“We have a 211 number where they could call to request assistance,” said Sandoval, “but a lot of times that was in English or they had technical difficulties being able to get that information.” Not only are Spanish-language resources hard to come by, misinformation on Spanish radio stations is plentiful. This lack of communication appears to have exacerbated or at least contributed to the disproportionate infection of the Latino community in Oregon.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic,” said Mexican-American winemaker Cristina Gonzales, “But we’re also in a pandemic of misinformation. And that goes down the pipeline, down to our most disadvantaged and underrepresented groups.”

In the below graph, the blue bar represents the number of COVID-19 cases among people who identified as Hispanic. While it is clear that these represent much more than 13% of the population, the data has been obscured in some ways by the differentiation between race and ethnicity.

In this second graph, the “LatinX” community appears to have suffered zero cases, but that is false.This discrepancy appears because most people mark “white” (or another race) as their race, and identify themselves using the Hispanic ethnicity box. Evaluating race data alone could lead to an inaccurate analysis of the pandemic’s effect on the Latino community in Oregon.

This data shows the reality that Oregon’s Latino community, especially in the agricultural sector, has suffered disproportionately from COVID-19. Most of Oregon’s agricultural workers – especially in industries such as wineries Christmas tree farming in the Willamette Valley – are Latino, many of them migrant workers. For agricultural workers, losing two weeks of pay can be disastrous financially, and government aid such as employment benefits is not always available, either because of immigration status or a language barrier in accessing it. These workers rely on their employers to survive — but many of them  aren’t doing enough to allow workers to take enough time off, or even let them know if those opportunities exist.

Working from home is simply not an option for agricultural and service workers, who make up a majority of the Latino population. For students and white collar workers, work-from-home opportunities are also often limited by a lack of reliable internet access. This dearth of technology, as well as the language barrier, mean that reliable news media is scarce. Many families rely on word of mouth, news from their home countries, (which can include misinformation or health advice that differs significantly from US standards), and accurate signage and resources at the place of employment.

And employers aren’t always equipped properly to meet the needs of the community. Gonzales, whose vineyard is located just outside of Portland in the Willamette Valley, said even when employers are well-intentioned, overwhelm and the financial stresses of the pandemic can affect how resources are distributed. “You see the public health care signs of, you know, let’s be safe during COVID,” she said, “And they have them that are bilingual and in different languages. But some of it is that the employers themselves might not know how to get it. Or it’s just not being posted to where workers are able to see it. And then there’s illiteracy, where workers are potentially not able to read if it’s in English or if it’s in Spanish.”

Another problem is trust. Even when translated into Spanish and made available, many Latino people may be wary of official sources. “There’s a lot of mistrust of the government,” said Dr. Roberto Orellana, a professor in the School of Community Health at Portland State University. “No matter if it’s local government or federal government, for a lot of people, government is government. And when the government put your kids in cages, you don’t trust the government.”

Orellana also underscored the importance of word-of-mouth and messages from community organizations, such as Latino churches or family members, to help get the right information across. “The message has to come from the government,” he said, “but also from … local organizations.”

Gonzales, in addition to being very active in the Latino wine-making community, is on the board of the non-profit AHIVOY, (Asociación Hispana de la Industria del Vino en Oregon y Comunidad). AHIVOY provides education to vineyard workers (called “vineyard stewards”) in order to help them overcome socioeconomic barriers and access other careers within the wine industry, such as sales, working in tasting rooms, marketing, and even becoming winemakers themselves. Through partnerships with local community colleges, AHIVOY helps vineyard stewards, who might start out as migrant workers, gain an immersive English-language experience as well as knowledge and resources to start fulfilling careers. However, Gonzales said the pandemic has put a halt to all of that. When the community college closed their campus and moved classes online in the spring, AHIVOY had to temporarily cancel its program.

“Vineyard stewards don’t have access to the internet all the time,” said Gonzales, “So that would make if very difficult to run classes.” In-person resources are a necessary part of catering to lower-income students. Gonzales said she hoped the program would be revamped in 2021, with smaller class sizes.

Shutting down schools or moving to remote learning has been a unique challenge for the Latino community. Beyond the impact on children, who may not have access to the internet for online classes, it often means a disruption in the information pipeline for migrant parents. Monolingual Spanish-speaking parents often rely on information passed through their often English-speaking school children for updates on important news and events in the community. Orellana emphasized that it is vital for schools to “continue to provide evidence-based information to the students so they can take it into the family.”

Despite the information blackout in many Spanish-speaking households, the Oregon Latino Health Coalition has been trying its best to assist those affected by the virus — and Sandoval said it hasn’t been easy. The organization aims to help the Hispanic community in Multnomah County, especially those in the agricultural industries surrounding Portland, access otherwise hard-to-reach resources. They provide Spanish-language help with filling out applications for aid and healthcare. But Sandoval said that even in 2020, when much of life seems to have moved online, the group relies most heavily on word of mouth to get information to their clients. For a recent drive-through COVID testing event, Sandoval said, “Most of the patients that signed up for it, it was through word of mouth. When we would try to do it on social media, it wasn’t effective.”

Without adequate resources and information available to the Latino community, Sandoval also said that migrant workers fear giving the necessary personal information for contact tracing to county and state officials. They are afraid it might be given to ICE and lead to deportation.

“We saw a lot of clients hesitant to accept any sort of financial aid or resources, because they felt like it could affect their immigration status,” she said. Even though the county does not report any of the information it collects to ICE, Sandoval said people are hesitant to trust officials, and don’t want to disclose information such as the other members of their household. This has led to hesitance in the community to get tested, as a positive test is associated with having to disclose this vital information to the authorities.

Many involved in outreach in the Latino community said that because resources and staff are scarce, it has led to extreme overwhelm among those trying to help. “Everyone is like a deer in the headlights right now,” said Gonzales. “We’ve been in the pandemic for a little while, but still, it’s so much to take in and process. And, you know, to try to survive.”

Because so much of Oregon’s Spanish-speaking population is currently employed in the agricultural and service sectors, there are too few Latino nurses, community health workers, and Spanish-speaking government employees to address the crisis. “When the vaccine comes,” said Orellana, “we want to have this large workforce of trained Latinos, who are bicultural and bilingual, that can help our agencies, the state and community health centers.”

Sandoval echoed the call. “We’re all feeling like there just need to be more resources available,” she said. “Because until people can feel like they can stay home, and take care of themselves, protect themselves, without losing their jobs or their homes, the numbers are still going to continue to increase.”


Preserving the Future of Indigenous Memory in Montana After COVID-19

A proud rez girl from Lame Deer, Montana, Dr. Desi Rodriguez-Lonebear reflects on the difficult week her Northern Cheyenne Reservation community endures as they mourn the death of a 33 year-old father, husband, and tribal member to COVID-19. “The impact of his death is just…I don’t know how we’re going to get over this one… I don’t know how we’re going to get through this one.”

American Indian tribal nations in Montana are inherent sovereign nations possessing autonomous powers, separate and independent from the federal and state governments. Despite this sovereignty, tribal nations are inextricably interconnected with the very governments and their unequal power structures they are legally independent from. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the state’s mishandling of it, has threatened the preservation of culture, language, and traditions of these diverse sovereign nations.

“Overcoming COVID is going to really require the dismantling of all of these systems of oppression that have enabled the virus to kill so many people of color. It’s very clear that the experience of COVID is absolutely stratified along economic, racial, and geographic lines,” says Dr. Rodriguez-Lonebear, an Assistant Professor at UCLA Department of Sociology and a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation, located in present-day southeastern Montana.

According to The Atlantic’s COVID-19 Tracking Project, the American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) community makes up 6% of Montana’s population, however accounts for 13% of COVID-19 cases and 28% of deaths. This disparity in COVID-19 related deaths is not exclusive to Montana. Nationwide, Black, American Indian or Alaska Native (AIAN), and Hispanic/Latino populations are seeing alarmingly higher death rates relative to white populations.

The below chart shows deaths per 100,000 people by race in the United States.

When looking at the state of Montana in isolation, the case rates become even more alarming for the AIAN population, as seen in the chart below.

The chart above shows the disturbing case rate in the AIAN community; 9,686 per 100,000 people are contracting the virus. This rate is twice that of Montana’s white population and nearly 3x that of the US white population average.

When looking at specific tribal nation data, death rates for the AIAN population become inconceivable. The Northern Cheyenne Reservation has 11,266 enrolled tribal members with about 5,012 residing on the reservation. As of December 11th, the reservation has seen 863 cumulative cases, and 36 deaths. There are 172 cases of COVID-19 per 1,000 tribal reservation members, an alarming number compared to 45 cases per 1,000 for white people.

Erasure of American Indians in Data Collection
Dr. Rodriguez-Lonebear understands the impact of having access to and control over indigenous data. As part of a lifelong sovereign indigeous data commitment, she founded the Data Warriors Lab – an Indigenous social science laboratory and is co-founder of the U.S. Indigenous Data Sovereignty Network – a collective dedicated to ensuring that data for and about Indigenous nations and peoples in the U.S. (American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians) are utilized to advance Indigenous aspirations for collective and individual wellbeing.

“What we’re seeing within these publicly available data sets are just a snapshot of what’s actually happening on the ground. That’s largely because of the fact that these data sets being collected by county, state, and federal agencies have a long history of misclassifying, miscounting, and not counting indigenous peoples in this country. The urgency of the situation is even greater than what the data are telling us. And what the data are telling us is terrifying and shocking. In Montana, natives are dying at almost 12x the rate of white people in this state. If that doesn’t shock you, I don’t know what will.”

The need for up-to date and accurate, tribal specific data is dire. Among many things, the pandemic has illuminated for many inside the margins the crippling inequity that plagues this country. In the past, we have seen the harmful impacts of inaccurate, incomplete, and flawed tribal population data, such as the Census. The Census directly impacts funding levels for tribal communities and failure to accurately and consistently account for the nuances in American Indian data leads to long-lasting and complex health, education, and economic inequities.

The chart below shows the sharp rise of COVID-19 cases and deaths of AIAN peoples in Montana.

Although the data collected from the COVID-19 tracking project does a great job collecting data across state agencies, there is still a need for stronger data collection for AIAN communities.
“There is a significant problem with the lack of tribal identifiers in a lot of these covid data sets which is a symptom of a much larger issue where tribal identifiers are not being collected in administrative data sets that aren’t coming out of administrative agencies. Without having the ability to identify your tribal affiliation, or the ability to identify that you are an enrolled citizen of a tribal nation, tribal nations have difficult time figuring out the magnitude of all sorts of crisis and issues on their population,” says Dr. Lonebear when asked about the most dangerous consequences of gaps in data collection.

Another major issue with the misreporting of data is the inability to account for the unique cultural components of the nations. “Native populations are highly mobile populations. There is this constant flow on and off reservations in and out of urban and rural areas. In the middle of a pandemic, with a communicable disease like this, the inability to track that type of movement in these data systems – for example people accessing care through tribal or indian health service facilities or being tested there, but also accessing and being tested off the reservations, and those systems aren’t linked together – that’s a real problem.”

Risk factors from reservations to hospitals
The lack of data infrastructure isn’t the only issue Indigenous groups are facing. At the Fort Peck reservation, located in the extreme northeast corner of Montana, the Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes are losing about one member a day to COVID, according to Kaci Wallette, a Registered Nurse who worked at North Montana Health Service Poplar Community Hospital and serves as a second term Council Women on the Fortpeck Assiniboine Sioux Tribal Executive Board.

As the most rural reservation in Montana, one of the greatest challenges, according to Kelli, has been the limited capacity at the community hospitals and the distance between hospitals, which is about a four and a half to five hour drive. Kelli describes the pressures of working with COVID patients at a community hospital with limited capacity. “We had to call six different hospitals to try and find a bed for a recently admitted patient. That was in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and finally the University of Utah had an open bed for him. That weekend that I worked, we flew out nine patients, and that was just night shifts, that wasn’t counting the day shifts. So for a community of 3,500 and we are flying out nine patients over three days, with a staff of three nurses and one doctor, and an ambulance crew, which I think they were going on ten calls a day… it’s just very overwhelming our rural community.”

Finding a bed for COVID patients to be treated on in these communities is only half that battle. The recovery and rehabilitation process is a long one, according to Kelli. “Once patients get flown out, it’s a long tedious recovery. Patients usually require physical therapy because when they’re on the vent, muscle mass deteriorates pretty rapidly. When patients get off the vent, they don’t remember because they’ve been sedated for so long. Patients are having to go to a long term care facility to teach them how to walk again and rebuild their muscles. That’s another challenge we’re facing because we don’t have those long term care facilities around this area. That means longer time away from their family. It’s a big burden, I think, to catch it and then have to try to recover by yourself. You have to be a very strong person to want to recover and make it back to your family once you get flown out. Patients have a long road of recovery ahead of them.”

A team of Indigenous researchers at UCLA and the University of Arizona, which includes Dr.Rodriguez-Lonebear, identified the key risk factors, aside from the legacy of an oppressive colonial statehood, contributing to the alarming COVID-19 infection and death rates. These include lack of complete indoor plumbing, access to running water, access to relevant information in Indigenous languages, and overcrowding in the home. The research outlines what measures must be in place in order to protect American Indian communities from COVID-19 and future pandemics, tribal communities must have access to potable water, culturally-relevant information via community preferred media, and strengthening of tribal public health and household infrastructure as delineated in government treaties and other agreements.

Preserving American Indian Culture
As sovereign nations which have been historically erased from the public sphere, there is a dangerous existential threat to American Indians and their histories, memory, and culture.
Nitakechi Hυshitomi, a reconnecting Native and founder of the Organization for Indigenous Autonomy from Peoria, Illinois shares what he believes the implications of the virus means for the culture of indigenous peoples. “I believe that our culture is at risk, specifically language and religious practices. Native American societies in general are less of a written history people as we rely heavily on oral tradition being passed down by elders. As elders are called to the creator, we lose that much more of our histories.”

Kelli shares a similar sentiment when considering the long-lasting impact of COVID-19 on the community. “The demographic that we’re seeing hit hardest on our reservation is the 45-65 year old male population. That age group carries a lot of cultural aspects of our reservation. Any member loss does because that’s part of our history. That is another challenge that we are struggling with right now.”

Kelli believes that a culture of shame and embarrassment around the virus is also what is causing this group of tribal men to die at higher rates. “As a tribe, we’ve been trying to push the message out to everybody to not be ashamed if you catch this… it is nothing to be ashamed of. Let people know so we can provide services and support.”

Dr. Rodriguez-Lonebear shares “We are losing elders, some of our last language speakers who hold so much knowledge around ceremonies and way of life. We are just really approaching a crisis point that is going to become increasingly more urgent to really think about how we are going to perpetuate our cultures and way of life… because without that, who are we as indigenous peoples?”

Grieving the community
The collective grief felt by the community expands beyond generations and reservations. Alongside the rise of distance learning, celebration and concerts, there has also been a rise in distance mourning, recoveries and funerals. This is causing deteriorating mental health and will continue to be a major health crisis for communities all around the globe in the coming years.

For indigeouns people, grieving elders and members of the tribe at a distance has already begun to take a toll on the survivors. As an interconnected community, Dr. Rodriguez-Lonebear considers how this survivor’s guilt and trauma shouldered by those adjacent to lives lost will impact collective memory and healing. “What we’re not talking about is the toll that this is going to take on our collective ability as indigenouns peoples to heal our collective memory and a whole different realm of intergenerational trauma that we’re going to experience from this. We can’t mourn the dead like our cultural protocols require us to do. We can’t sing our people home who have passed on. We can’t gather in the ways that we have always gathered from the very beginning of time and try to survive.”

As a stark contrast to the individualistic nature of American culture, the interconnected nature of Indigenous peoples has allowed for the suregence of collective action and community support. At Fort Peck Reservation, Kelli shares the community currently offers food boxes for those who are on quarantine. The affected members get a food box once a week for quarantined individuals and their households. The reservation has also partnered with the CDC which is helping the tribe with daily incident reports and media campaigns. John Hopkins University is also on the ground helping with efforts for households that don’t have phone access, checking in on the vulnerable populations that are on quarantine, and providing money for folks to purchase thermometers. Lastly, the tribe is working with the local hospital, Northeast Montana Health Service to purchase bulk orders of over-the-counter medication including zinc, vitamin d, mucinex, tylenol, and vix vaporub to include in weekly food packages.”

A Path Forward
Through his community centered foundation Organization for Indigenous Autonomy, Hushitomi is working to preserve the past and present of indigenous communities in Montana. The aim is to ensure a fruitful future for indigenous peoples through a commitment to sovereignty and collective action. Hυshitomi shares in an email, “The OIA is a group designed to promote land sovereignty in the Native American, Hispanic/Chicano/Latinx, and Pacific Islander communities. We advocate and work towards the establishment of sovereign Native nations. We believe that the American, Canadian, and other settler governments were designed to slaughter, oppress, and disenfranchise the communities we serve. Our network works with various movements dedicated to sovereignty, both Indigenous lead and otherwise.”

A future of sovereign, yet networked indigenous data collection and archival preservation project is also already in the works thanks to Dr. Rodriguez-Lonebear. “One of the things I’m involved with right now is figuring out how to build an integrated data system for my tribe, The Northern Cheyenne Nation. How can we develop a true data system that links together all the data sets that we have on our tribal members and our tribal citizens across all federal agencies, across all the different services that are being provided, across the different healthcare systems that are being accessed. Taking a big picture approach to ‘what does an integrated tribal data system look like’ and ‘how do we build it’ and ‘what is that going to take?’ Right now I’m in feasibility study with my nation trying to figure that out. It’s a hard thing, it’s a big ask, but we know we’re going to need that moving forward to be able to protect and serve our citizens.”

Lastly, Kelli shares how her tribe’s re-engagement with cultural customs of previous generations has been a silver-lining of the pandemic. “One good thing that i’m seeing is the resurgence of some of our medicinal plants and roots coming into play; smudging up our house, bare root tea, sweetgrass. Some of those medicinal herbs and remedies that we relied on for generations are now coming back. That is a part of the culture that we’re regaining.”


COVID-19 Cases on the Rise Among White Mississippians

Just an hour south of Tupelo lies Mississippi State University, nestled near the town of Starkville, or what others call the “Golden Triangle.” David Buys, an assistant professor in the Department of Health at MSU, has watched the coronavirus pandemic escalate since March. He says that the rate of coronavirus cases has climbed in the last few months in his home of Mississippi.

When Governor Tate Reeves began to create a stay at home order for the state, coronavirus cases were already increasing. On April 1, a statewide stay at home order was enforced to decrease contamination, except for businesses and services deemed essential, which were many. Gov. Reeves enforced a mask mandate in May, which required everyone to wear a face mask in public when social distancing was not possible.

But many have said that Reeves was late to enforce policies and he relaxed his mandates too soon. Reeves lifted the mask mandate in September which didn’t help the new onslaught of cases that came in the Fall. Specifically, the race data has shown that coronavirus cases have increased among white communities, while the amount of cases has decreased among black communities.

Buys, the professor from MSU, says that the messaging from the state government could be one of the reasons that cases have increased. According to data published in November, this is the first time since June that the white community has exceeded the black community in coronavirus cases. Buys said this could be because of the political affiliations between white communities and the Republican government.

“I think the presidential campaign that has been so drawn on racial lines has emboldened white people to resist the precautions,” he said. “I think the federal government’s response has called into question the validity of science and the recommendations that have come forth from our public health and medical experts.”

Governor Reeves, a friend of Donald Trump’s and a first-term Republican, in March decided to wait and see how coronavirus would affect the state. He waited until April to declare stay at home orders, while local governors began restrictions as early as March 15. Reeves has continuously lifted state mandates since August and it has shown an uptick in cases.

Buys says that the number of cases will increase if Reeves doesn’t return the state back to a face mask mandate and create more social distancing restrictions.

“After the governor lifted the statewide mask mandate, and he has begun to implement pocket mandates depending on rates county by county. We know that people travel between counties, so they are going between counties and the public health opinion would be that the isolated mandates are not as effective as statewide mandates.”

Buys said that while he’s noticed an increase of mask-wearing and social distancing in black communities of Mississippi, the discretion among white communities has decreased, and this could be leading to the increase in cases. According to data released by Mississippi State University in November, the number of cases has increased much higher in the white community, up to 57,924 cases. While among African-Americans, the number of cases is about 50,535.

Anecdotally, Buys said that he’s noticed more white people attending schools in person, traveling out-of-state, and doing activities that are not safe according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There appear to be many more minority families that are taking advantage of virtual schooling options than those that are not.”

The reason for this, Buys said, could also be due to the fact that black communities were hit hard by COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic, so there is a large increase in social distancing in this community. While white families, who have been notoriously Republican in the state, have leaned towards the information given by Governor Reeves and President Trump, which has led to confusion.

“White folks who were maybe more likely to be Trump supporters also bought the anti-science rhetoric that was coming from that administration.”

As you can see in this timeline, it shows that during the Summer the COVID-19 rate was higher in the Black communities than in white communities.

But starting in September, when Governor Reeves lifted the mask mandate, the cases among white populations started to increase. You can see in this data that by December 9, the amount of COVID-19 cases was higher in the white population.

But Yulanda Haddix, who is the local president of the Mississippi NAACP Chapter in Tupelo, said that the data is showing a skewed version of the real crisis. She said that she thinks that African-Americans are still being infected at a higher rate but it’s not being presented properly.

“COVID is not decreasing in the black community, it’s just not reported in the black community. We don’t go and get COVID tested, it’s not readily available,” she said. “We live in a rural community, most of us don’t have health insurance. When we get an illness we treat ourselves, and we aren’t going to the doctor unless we have to go. That’s why it’s not reported as much.”

She said that although the data says differently, she believes that the African-American community is getting hit much harder. She said that because of systemic issues in Mississippi, many black residents don’t have access to health insurance or testing clinics located near their homes.

Mississippi is one of the many states that hasn’t expanded Medicaid, which makes it less likely that low-income and minority families will have easy access to healthcare. This further widens the disparity in healthcare coverage and COVID-19 testing facilities.

“Because we don’t have the availability of health insurance, or primary care physicians, we are not going to be diagnosed. By holiday time, I think we are going to gather. All we have is family. I think it is more prevalent in our communities, we are just not being counted.”

But the data trends are still showing that white communities are increasing in COVID cases. According to data by the COVID Tracking Project, about 42% of coronavirus cases in Mississippi are African-American, while 48% are white. Even though the numbers show that coronavirus cases have increased among the white community, she said that COVID is disproportionately affecting the black community.

“In rural communities, or low-income or underserved, no one has three hours to get tested. And if you don’t have health insurance, most of the time you can’t get the test. Mississippi is the way it is because people allow it to be that way. The underserved continue to be underserved and the upper class is the upper class.”

While there are differences in the way that black and white communities are being affected, the data shows that coronavirus is affecting both communities at alarming rates. Some residents said that white residents don’t necessarily believe in the health consequences of COVID-19.

James Phillips, who said that many of his friends in Mississippi have contracted COVID-19, said that he thought the CDC guidelines are too restrictive and he thinks they are unnecessary. He said that he and his friends do not believe that coronavirus is as harmful as it’s portrayed on the media.

“It was a big fear factor, for the ones at first who got it. But then they would get better, it was killing other people but it wasn’t bad for them,” he said. “Everyone I talked to had the same story. None of the people I knew had it bad. I no longer fear it.”

Since Governor Reeves rescinded the mask mandate, many residents have felt that they can go outside freely without wearing masks. According to the Mississippi Free Press, this has been seen amongst white people. Phillips said that he is one of the residents who doesn’t believe in the mask guidelines.

“I don’t trust the guidelines. I have been without a mask since the pandemic started, except to get on a plane. I’ve had no problems.”

Instead of issuing a statewide mask mandate, Governor Reeves has only enforced masks by county. People are required to wear masks in the counties that have the highest number of cases. While Reeves said that people should be wearing masks, there is no statewide law enforcing it. The number of cases is increasing, and as of December 13, about 179,447 coronavirus cases have been recorded in Mississippi. Yet, many residents are still not wearing masks.

Ashton Pittman, a reporter for the Mississippi Free Press and a native Mississippian, said that he’s seen people inside grocery stores and shops disregarding the CDC guidelines.

“In some cases, people are defying the social distancing and defying masks to make a political statement,” he said. “I’ve seen Republican politicians who are speaking at anti-masking events, a lot of these are happening in Desoto County.”

He said that Governor Reeves has been confusing because he’s trying to please both sides of the political spectrum and he’s been acting too late.

“A lot of people aren’t taking him seriously. He’s not making anyone happy cause he’s trying to make everyone happy. There’s also a black and white split,” he said. “White people in Mississippi tend to believe Donald Trump, and he’s downplayed COVID-19. Black people don’t listen to Donald Trump, they tend to listen to the advice of medical experts.”

He also said that black people in Mississippi are being more careful because there were so many coronavirus related deaths early on in the pandemic.

“Black people in Mississippi are more likely to know someone who died early on in the pandemic. White people should be taking this more seriously, but the politics are overruling it.”

On Saturday in South Mississippi, the cases reached an all time high. The Mississippi State Department of Health reported 2,665 new cases and 56 deaths as of Saturday.

There is a new mask mandate that was enforced on December 11, requiring all Mississipians in impacted counties to wear masks in public. But this does not require all residents to wear masks outside, and locals like James Phillips, are skeptical of the severity of the virus.

“I was very cautious at first…..I did not want my family to fall into those numbers. After doing my own research, I am okay with having it (coronavirus). I feel comfortable that if I get it, it won’t last more than a couple days.”

He says that he does not trust the guidelines put forth by the CDC and will not follow mask mandates unless he is traveling.


Lincoln County, Nevada – An Example of How the Second Wave Hits Rural Counties Across America, Straining Local Resources

By: Maureen Mullarkey
Word Count: 1665

Lincoln County, Nevada – An Example of How the Second Wave Hits Rural Counties Across America, Straining Local Resources

Lincoln County, Nevada had only five cases of COVID-19 throughout the first seven months of the coronavirus pandemic. Zero deaths. With a population of 5,200 barely anyone in the county expected covid rates to soar beyond double digits. Then November arrived and Lincoln County held a testing positivity rate of 18.6%. Cases have since been skyrocketing, now totaling at 248.

“Two months ago it basically exploded,” said Lincoln County Sheriff Kerry Lee, 57. “It rapidly accelerated in the amount of cases.

Lincoln County, one of Nevada’s most sparse and rural counties per square mile, now leads the state’s percentage of positive coronavirus cases, with a percentage of 62.7 percent at the beginning of this week. The county, which has a total population of 5,200, is just one of the many rural areas nationwide which are experiencing a surge of positive COVID-19 cases, in the second wave of the pandemic.

Shana Marie Loveday, a resident of the town of Alamo, has been a resident of Lincoln County since 1992.

“I don’t think people took it very seriously in the beginning,” said Loveday. “ You had to have your mask at the store, but you could shop without one until you got to the register. Some people didn’t even care if you had a mask. She said she herself didn’t worry too much, even when a healthcare provider she knew contracted the virus in the Spring.

“It was like, okay, that makes sense,” said Loveday, who works at a youth correctional facility. “You know, it was in a high risk field.

But come October, the county experienced its first COVID-19 related death, when an elderly woman in a nursing home contracted the virus. Then in late November, Lau Fiatoa, a healthy man in his 40’s, contracted the virus and died a few days later.

Loveday said Fiatoa’s wife was a former student of her husband, who teaches high school, and this affected the tight-knit community deeply.

“I feel like it was a big wake up call for a lot of people in the town,” said Loveday. “ It’s like, oh, so it took somebody dying, that’s kind of sad. You know, this poor man, he’s got four young boys at home. It just breaks my heart.”

Lee, who has been on the force for 32 years and sheriff for 16, said that this surge has not just affected the county’s residents but their resources as well. At the beginning of the pandemic in March, Lee says he tried to limit his officer’s interaction with residents to prevent exposure from COVID-19. But since most of his officers are also coroners for the county, and also serve as guards for the local prison in the town of Pinoche, limited exposure seemed almost impossible.

“We saw an increase in coroner cases not due to COVID, but an increase of fatal accidents. The traffic on our highways increased. Calls to service, [such as] domestics, calls contemplating suicide increase, everything that we do increased,” said Lee. “So we really had no choice but to go back. We couldn’t continue doing our job effectively with the precautions that we were taking. “

Lee’s department is made up of 16 officers, but as of now, four are in quarantine after exposure to COVID-19. Even though he felt his officers were given enough PPE this March, the lack of people power stretches his officers thin.

“Three or four doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you have a very small department, that’s big,” said Lee. “We’re requesting officers to work overtime. We shortened our shifts. We just basically did everything we could, and it’s still continuing right now.”

Lee says that even though his officers sometimes receive backup from other departments like Highway Patrol, there is no quick fix to replace a fully trained police officer. He says it takes almost a year for an officer to be trained and hired, especially in Lincoln County, where police wear multiple hats.

“In law enforcement, you just don’t hire somebody tomorrow and put them to work the next day,” said Lee. “ So hiring isn’t even an option for us as far as getting somebody to help fill the gaps.”

Lincoln County county, which is a total of 10,633.4 square miles, is mainly ranching county. North of Las Vegas, it only contains one hospital, Grover C. Dils Medical Center, which also is a nursing home.

Loveday says that while she feels this hospital is good for emergencies and has been transparent with the county about COVID-19 cases, residents often end up going to metropolitan areas for major health issues.

“I had an appendicitis years ago,” she said about one experience at Grover C. Dils. “And it was like, yep, ‘I think that’s what’s going on, get in, get over to Cedar City and get it taken care of there’.”

Dr. Bryce Putnam, the Health Officer for Elko County in the northeast of Nevada, says that one main issue rural counties face compared to metropolitan areas is a lack of infrastructure within its health care system. In Nevada, for example, its rural counties, or ‘frontier counties” are serviced by Carson City.”

“So just in perspective, it’s 320 miles from Elko to Carson City,” said Putnam. “We kind of had to work in conjunction with the state to use the existing resources that we had.”

Putnam says that in Elko county, in order to reach its almost 48,000 residents over 17,200 square miles, a COVID-19 Hotline was created in the first wave, where medical students from the University of Nevada answer caller’s questions about COVID-19. The medical students would be able to not only check someone’s symptoms over the phone, but create in-person appointments for them, if needed. The hotline encompassed six counties: Pershing; Humbodlt; Lander; Eureka; Elko; and White Pine.

Putnam says this hotline also relieved added stress from local sheriff’s offices and hospitals.

“They were able to stay home, not go into the doctor’s office, and, possibly propagate the disease, which is what we were trying to prevent,” he said.

Across the country, most non-metropolitan counties have now recorded at least 100 cases or more per 10,000 people since the pandemic began, more than double than in early September. Nevada as a whole has also seen an increase in almost every country, with an average of 2,429 cases per day. Elko County currently has 3373 total confirmed cases, and has experienced 28 COVID-19 related deaths

Putnam says that just because numbers are high in rural counties, it doesn’t mean there were not cases before in the first wave. With a lack of available tests, Putnam says medical students had to presume people positive for COVID-19 and tell them to stay home based on their symptoms, in order to keep the virus at bay.

“Back then, our biggest issue was that there wasn’t any testing. In rural Nevada, at one point we had 20 tests available for four or five counties,” said Putnam. “These things were like gold.”

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Country Emergency Manager Eric Holt claims he was helping create a “recovery plan” to submit a state COVID-19 task force. Holt intends to increase testing and acquiring test kits which can be processed within 24 hours.

This increase of testing may be helpful, as Lincoln County’s percentage of positive cases has begun to decrease, starting with 62.7 percent on Monday, 52.7 percent on Friday, and 43 percent on Sunday. But still, Lincoln County has only administered 812 tests, according to the Nevada Health Response COVID-19 Statistics Dashboard.

Nevada governor Steve Sisolak had recently announced a three-week “pause” beginning on Nov. 24, putting heavier restrictions on businesses and stricter mask mandates. However, this mandate came after the 2020 presidential election, which may have been a possible factor in the increase of cases.

But Putnam says that these restrictions unfortunately fall at a time when people have a “pandemic fatigue”, when people are striving for some sort of normalcy in the pandemic, making it harder to expect others to comply with regulations. Putnam also attributes pandemic fatigue to the reason for a second wave, especially in areas like Lincoln County.

“When we were shut down, we were shut down for a long time,” he said. “That was absolutely detrimental to rural businesses.”

Loveday says that as essential workers, she and her husband’s work places have altered dramatically. As a youth correctional officer, she says the facility she works in, which normally houses 140 juveniles, has been cut in half to 56, lowering its yearly budget. She says her husband’s schedule as a high school teacher has also changed.

“In March, when they went in quarantine, our school district went online. He hated it,” she said. “Now he’s so excited to be back in the classroom. He’ll have a four day school week, and have classes that meet on Mondays, Wednesdays and another on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

Loveday, who grew up in Las Vegas, said that most people who move to Lincoln County because they want a certain, more quiet lifestyle. A mother of two children ages nine and 17, the first wave was more tolerable for them because of fresh air.

“I let my kids do a lot more during the summer. They could go play out in the street,” she said. “They knew to keep your distance, but you can ride bikes and stuff with your friends. But now that it’s getting colder they don’t really want to be outside.”

City getaways were a bigger excursion, she says, and are now far away in terms of time as well as distance.

“As far as your day to day, most people just stay in your own little town. Each has a school and a church, a gas station and a market. But normally we’d go to Vegas and go to the movies for something fun. That would be fun to do again,” she said. “Someday.”


How Tyson Foods Failed the Hispanic Community in Arkansas

At the height of the first-wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hispanic, Black, and Asian front-line workers at Tyson Foods meat-packing facilities in Springdale, Arkansas worked shoulder-to-shoulder in low ventilated, congregate spaces, while taking orders from a white management team who wagered with their lives. Now, eight months later in the midst of the deadly second wave, the United States is making its way towards three-hundred thousand COVID-19 deaths and the meat-packing industry continues to be a national breeding ground for the virus.

Tyson Foods, the global meat processing company which accounts for approximately 20% of the beef, pork and chicken produced in the US, has been at the helm of these outbreaks. With a total of 145 production facilities in the country, the majority of which are in Arkansas, Tyson has become an example of how being slow to adopt CDC recommended procedures and precautions can cost lives.

Magaly Licolli, Co-founder and Director at Venceremos —a worker-based organization in Arkansas whose mission is to ensure the human rights of poultry workers— first became aware of the dangerous working conditions of these facilities when she worked at a community clinic in Springdale.

“Most of these workers are injured for life, and a lot of workers don’t have access to healthcare. That’s why they went to the community clinic where they needed a specialist because of the issues they developed from working in processing plants. I knew that immigrants were coming to the US to find a better life, but I never knew this was the life they had to encounter.”

Since the start of the pandemic, Magaly has been working with organizers on the ground to ensure poultry workers are guaranteed PPE, paid-sick leave, paid-quarantine leave, hazard pay, and social distancing policies are being implemented and upheld.

Through several press releases, Tyson Foods Senior Vice President Scott Brook and other senior management team members at the company have applauded their internal efforts of CDC recommended protocol implementation, while also noting that community infections remain higher than company rates. According to Brook, the company is doing everything they can to protect the safety of their essential workers.

According to Magaly, keeping poultry workers safe has never been a priority for this industry, especially in Springdale. “Organizing here in Arkansas, in the home of Tyson Foods, brings a lot of insecurity for workers to speak up, as they are often in the shadows. The entire community benefits from the suffering of these workers. Tyson provides money to thousands of nonprofits in Arkansas to service immigrants and the Marshallese people, but at the end of the day, charity does not bring justice to these workers and [donations] pretty much control the community’s silence.”

The fear of retaliation for speaking out against companies such as Tyson is now a tactic of the past, as many front-line workers and activists on the ground are speaking out against years of injustice. According to a new report from BuzzFeed News, seven meat processing plants in Arkansas, owned by JBS, Tyson, and Cargill Tyson, are accused of underreporting COVID-19 cases while declining the state health department’s offer to conduct testing on-site.

Local news reports also show COVID-19 safety related policies came too late and at the expense of many lives. Despite press release announcements from Tyson Food’s communications team, the dangerous conditions reported by activists on the ground show a different reality; a reality which has a disproportionate impact on the marginalized communities that make up the workforce at these processing plants.

According to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) —CDC’s scientific publication of useful public health information and recommendations— there were a total of 23 states reporting COVID-19 outbreaks in meat and poultry processing facilities. Across these 23 states, 16,233 cases in 239 facilities were recorded. Among cases where race/ethnicity was reported, the MMWR identified that 87% of COVID-19 cases occurred among racial or ethnic minorities.*

According to The Covid Tracking Project at The Atlantic, Hispanic/Latino residents are contracting the virus at significantly higher rates compared to all other racial or ethnic groups in the state. In Arkansas, Hispanic/Latino residents make up 7% of the population, however make up 13% of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

The below graph highlights new daily cases and total COVID-19 cases for Hispanic populations in Arkansas since the start of the pandemic.

Below we see COVID-19 outbreaks by county in Arkansas. As noted in the map, the highest number of cases are happening in Pulaski, Washington, and Benton counties.

Springdale, Arkansas —situated in Washington and Benton counties and home to Tyson Foods headquarters— also happens to have the largest population of Hispanic/Latino residents, making up 36% of the city’s population.

According to Magaly there are physical conditions and psychological management tactics unique to meat-packing facilities which make this work particularly dangerous for employees. The quick production line speeds are at the crux of these dangers. “Right now the line speed is 145 chickens per minute. This year during the pandemic, some companies got a waiver to increase the line speed to 174 chickens per minute. The repetitive motions create long term injuries like carpal tunnel and because of the speed, many of the workers get into accidents such as cuttings and amputations.”

The increased demand of meat is the driving force behind line speeds. Hitting production goals requires machine-like efficiency of workers. “Because of the line speed running so fast and these workers acting like machines, there are a lot of restrictions on breaks, including bathroom breaks. Employees are not allowed a lot of breaks and are often forced to wear diapers because they don’t want to get in trouble.”

The management style in these facilities create a culture of fear and punishment by use of a disciplinary point system. “Any mistake will lead to a point reduction, such as coming in even one minute late, going to the bathroom without permission, lasting longer in the bathroom than is permitted, and taking time off for the doctor. These workers live with the threat of being fired for doing what is right, what they’re supposed to do.”

Oscar Fernandez filed a wrongful death suit against Tyson Foods over the summer when his father Isidro Fernandez, an employee at Tyson’s Waterloo, Iowa plant, died from COVID-19 complications. The initial suit alleged Tyson Foods did not take the proper precautions to ensure the safety of its employees.

COVID-19 safety violations are only the tip of the iceberg. According to Good Jobs First —a national policy resource center promoting corporate and government accountability— Tyson Foods has paid $169 million dollars for 284 violations since 2000. 54% of the violations were safety related offenses.

In November, Fernandez’s lawsuit was amended to include allegations of malpractice and misconduct from Waterloo facility leadership. According to the lawsuit, management cancelled safety meetings, avoided plant floors once COVID-19 cases were confirmed, encouraged employees to continue working regardless if they were sick or exhibiting symptoms, and most shockingly, established “a cash buy-in, winner-take-all betting pool for supervisors and managers to wager how many employees would test positive for Covid-19.”

This is not surprising, according to Magaly. She believes Tyson Foods has only taken symbolic action to ensure the safety of its employees. “Companies such as Tyson claim that they have invested millions of dollars in securing workers safety by placing plexiglasses between workers, but the reality is workers are still working shoulder to shoulder. Because of the structure in the plants, it’s impossible for workers to practice social distancing if they have to come in and out of shifts at the same time. If they have the same break times to go to the bathroom, they crowd the bathroom and the hallways. But these companies claim that because they placed the plastic, everything is safe.”

The official Waterloo facility complainant comes from a variety of organizations including Food Chain Workers Alliance, Rural Community Workers Alliance, HEAL Food Alliance, American Friends Service Committee–Iowa, Idaho Organization of Resource Councils, and Forward Latino.

The compliant further alleges that the COVID-19 policies adopted after March 11, 2020 violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which protects individuals from racial discrimination by recipients of federal financial assistance. The complainant argues that Tyson Foods’ internal policies, or lack thereof, disproportionately impact Black, Latino, and Asian workers, which happen to be the majority of their workforce. These policies are discriminatory on the basis of race and are causing a substantial adverse effect on these workers.

Magaly claims that government agencies are on board with these allegations. “The federal government, the local government, and the state government have acted to protect these companies rather than the workers. They have passed executive orders that harm workers and workers don’t have any way to find any legal justice because they have protected these companies from any liability related to COVID-19. They [governments] know that these companies purposely expose workers because they refused to shut down or even slow down the volume of production. They refused to restructure the workstations because they were lying about the shortage of meat and claimed we were in a crisis. They said these workers were heroes and that they needed to keep working in order for us to have food on the table. The reality was not that. The reality was that Tyson is now exporting meat to other countries. So, it’s not that employees are working to meet the food demand of the nation, they are being sacrificed for profits.”

On April 28, 2020, President Trump signed an executive order under the Defense Production Act of 1950 ensuring meat processing facilities remain open, despite thousands of confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the facilities. Tyson Foods, Inc stock price has increased by 46% since March 18, the day after the company issued its first statement regarding intent to protect team members and ensure continuity of essential business.

*Race/ethnicity data was missing in 39% of MMWR reports


Latino Georgians hit hard by COVID-19

On July 10, Ana, 26, drove her mother to the hospital. The symptoms were minor, but enough for Ana to worry about her mother. Three days later, they got the lab results back. Positive for COVID-19. Ana, a customer service representative, called off work, and stayed home to take care of her mom, who is diabetic. Ana had no symptoms, but because she was looking after her mother decided to get tested. On July 17, her mother was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. Her mother felt cold, had difficulty breathing, and was confused. The next day, Ana received her own lab results. Positive for COVID-19.

Ana went to the emergency room, but was discharged the same night. She spent a month in her home, experiencing fevers, body pains and difficulty breathing. To this day, her sense of smell remains altered by the disease.

Ana lives with her parents, her 10-year-old son, her three siblings and two nephews. All of them, except her son caught the deadly virus. Ana’s mom was in an intensive care unit for two months and came home on Sept. 18. “While my mom was in ICU, we nearly lost her,” Ana said.

Ana, a DACA recipient who asked only her first name be used, and her family are among the 55,598 Latinos in Georgia who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 as of Dec. 9. The Peach State has reported a total of 476,044 cases of COVID-19 and 9,205 coronavirus-related deaths as of Dec. 13.With roughly 1 million Latino residents, Latinos or Hispanics, of any race, make up 9.8% of Georgia’s population, but they account for 15% of coronavirus cases in the state, according to the COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer organization launched by The Atlantic dedicated to collecting data on COVID-19 in the United States and its territories.

The following graphs show the racial breakdown of COVID-19 cases in Georgia. The COVID Tracking Project flagged the group’s case proportion as suggestive of ethnic disparity due to three criteria: it is at least 33% higher than the Census Percentage of Population, it remains elevated whether the project includes or excludes cases with unknown race or ethnicity and it is based on at least 30 actual cases or deaths.

As the breadwinner in the family, the month Ana was out of work put her under an immense financial strain. At the time she was diagnosed, family members from Mexico were staying at the house, making it even more cramped. They weren’t able to leave the United States until Aug. 15 due to travel restrictions. This meant Ana had to financially support 12 people.

“Everything fell on top of my shoulders,” Ana said. “My job paid 60% of my salary, but it was not enough to make ends meet, being the only income in the house.”

Ana had to use some her savings to pay utility bills up to $600, and looked to the non-profit organization the Latin American Association for help to pay her mortgage. She went back to work on Aug. 27, but has to cover the costs of her mom’s medical treatments, as she does not have health insurance. “Like any other daughter, I did my best to make sure everything was met,” Ana said.

Aixa Pascual, managing director of Civic Engagement and Advocacy of the Latin American Association, said the Georgia-based non-profit organization has helped roughly 600 families with financial assistance for rent and utilities. “At the beginning [of the pandemic], what we saw was an economic impact immediately,” Pascual said. “By the second half of March, we were already having people requesting financial assistance for rent. The number one need that we’ve seen is financial assistance for rent.”

Pascual said many of the organization’s clients, most of which hail from Mexico and Central America, faced heavy financial burdens during the first months of the pandemic after losing their jobs. Many, Pascual said, worked in leisure, construction and restaurants, industries that were forced to shut down during lockdowns.

Pascual pointed out that many Latino immigrants in Georgia and across the United States were excluded from government economic aid because those who do not have a social security number are ineligible to apply. Undocumented immigrants and mixed status families were excluded from the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package.

“The pandemic and the economic crisis they just have shone a light on these inequities,” Pascual said. “Our families are going to start 2021 in a position of more disadvantaged than when they started 2020.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified discrimination, gaps in education and wealth, healthcare access and housing conditions, specifically living in multigenerational households like Ana, as factors that put racial and ethnic “minorities” at increased risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19. “Long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick from COVID-19,” read CDC guidelines.

The following graphs show the racial breakdown of COVID-19 deaths in Georgia. Latinos or Hispanics, of any race, make up 6% of total deaths in the state. 

The high number of COVID-19 cases among Latino Georgians could also be attributed to their overrepresentation in the essential workforce, including farm and poultry factory workers. In Georgia, one in eight workers is an immigrant, making up a crucial part of the state’s labor force, according to the American Immigration Council.

Back in April, hundreds of poultry workers in Hall County, in northeastern Georgia, tested positive for the novel virus. Hall County, with a population of 206,349 residents, has so far reported 14,297 cases of the coronavirus, and has in the past two weeks reported 914 cases per 100,000 residents. Hispanics or Latinos make up 9.4% of the population of the Hall County city of Gainesville, known as “Poultry Capital of the World,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

One out of every four Latino poultry workers were testing positive for COVID-19, according to local reports from June. Latinos make up 30% of the workforce in the meat and poultry industry but 56% of cases, according to Atlanta Magazine.

Maria del Rosario Palacios, executive director of Gainesville-based non-profit GA Familias Unidas, said the majority of working spaces in the poultry industry have been crowded and had little ventilation before the pandemic hit. “There’s folks crowded, elbow to elbow, trying to help move the production line as fast as they can because, in most plants, people are paid by production. They’re paid by the pound,” said Palacios, whose mother worked in the poultry industry for over 20 years. 

Palacios said immigrant workers, especially those who are undocumented, are particularly vulnerable because their access to healthcare is limited. Undocumented immigrants are ineligible to enroll in Medicaid or to purchase coverage through the Affordable Care Act Marketplaces.

Meanwhile, in southern Georgia, cases spiked due to infections among farmworkers, according to the non-profit Georgia Health News. In May, COVID-19 cases tripled in Echols County after a testing event held by the South Health District and the Migrant Farmworkers Clinic, Valdosta Daily Times reported. Latinos make up 24.6% of the population in Echols County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

When the pandemic hit, non-profit Hispanic Alliance shifted its services. The mission now was to make sure no Latino family in the city of Gainesville went hungry. The Hispanic Alliance, known as La Alianza, in Spanish, received 40,000 pounds in food donations and has distributed fresh, nutritious and culturally appropriate ingredients to 9,000 families since April, according to Vanesa Sarazua, founder and executive director of the Hispanic Alliance.

“Our operations switched to helping people with basic needs,” said Sarazua, who contracted COVID-19 in July. “We don’t see the situation getting any better.”

Sarazua said last November’s food distribution was the second largest one, with 700 families receiving assistance through their drive through. The largest event was in May, with 750 families receiving boxes of food. 

Sarazua said many Latino Georgians in her community struggle with not knowing when they should seek medical attention, and worry about losing their jobs and working less hours if they take time off from work. “They had to tough out the covid storm on their own with no resources,” Sarazua said.

Among initiatives to address the disparities affecting Latino communities in the state, Emory University teamed up in August with the Mexican Consulate in the capital city of Atlanta to test Latino residents for COVID-19. Organizations like Community Organized Relief Efforts, have conducted free testing in Georgia. The Latino Community Fund launched in March a COVID-19 relief fund to assist vulnerable communities, aiding in food distribution, testing and rent payments.

“We need to discuss how to make things better while it’s still fresh in our minds,” Sarazua said. “We need to improve on protecting critical, frontline essential workers in a crisis. It’s very important to discuss and plan ahead as a nation.”


Iowa’s Asian Americans Experience Increasing Racism Under COVID-19 Pandemic

Iowa’s Asian Americans Experience Increasing Racism Under COVID-19 Pandemic

By Shiyu Xu

When Hannah Pinski, a sophomore at the University of Iowa, returned to campus in September, she was worried.

As she walked along the street near the downtown area after picking up her books from the book store, a woman grabbed her kids and pulled them away from Pinski as she was passing by. As soon as they passed Pinski, the woman let go of her kids.

“I felt very pointed,” Pinski said.

A month later in October when Covid-19 cases in Iowa started to spike again, Pinski was waiting in line outside a restaurant. Just like everyone else in line, she stood inside the box marked on the ground for social distancing. A man stood behind her took a step back to move further away from her, even that meant he had to be less than 6-ft from the person behind him.

During the pandemic, the Asian community has confronted the dual-threat: the infection of the Covid-19 virus and the infliction of xenophobic assaults.

In one of the whitest states in the country, the Chinese nationals and immigrants in Iowa are vulnerable to the increasing racial tension in their everyday life.

Iowans of Asian or Pacific Islander descent make up 2.7% and 0.1% of Iowa’s population, according to the State Data Center, with Des Moines, Ames and Iowa City having the largest numbers. That percentage is projected to grow to 4.4% by 2050.

Pinkski says even at her school, she feels she stands out.
“This is why it’s very easy for us to become the target,” she said. “We’re very much sometimes the only ones in the room.”

According to Iowa state’s Covid-19 data, more than 221,000 people have tested positive as of Dec.3. Among them, around 6,254 are Asian. The death rate for the Asian community in the state is 1.4%.

The chart below shows the total positive cases among each race in Iowa. Among the minority races, Asian’s number is the second-highest, following those who identify as black.

Under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, any person has 300 days from the last discriminatory incident to file a complaint alleging discrimination. “Therefore, it is entirely possible that many claims alleging discrimination related to COVID-19 have not yet been filed,” Elizabeth Johnson, executive director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission wrote to the Register and IowaWatch.

The graph down below shows the number of deaths from Covid-19 among each racial group in Iowa. Similar to the total case number, the death number for Asians in the state is the second-highest, following the black community.

To keep track of incidents in Iowa, the Asian alliance has created an online form where community members can submit reports of harassment and discrimination.

Nu Huynh, the Executive Director of Iowa Asian Alliance, says so far they only received a handful of reports, and most of them are verbal bullying and abuse instead of physical harm.

“We’ve been blessed and fortunate that we did experience what we were seeing around the country,” Huynh said. “But at the same time, we didn’t want to be blinded and not do anything about it. We did this so people feel safe and get their voice out.”

Huynh said in Iowa, more recent immigrant refugee populations have experienced more bullying, targeted by other minorities. And this existed before the pandemic.

“What we felt as a community is given the current political environment and the current state of everything, it just gave people more reason to show their true colors and to act upon it,” Huynh said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, President Donald Trump’s administration has been using languages such as “Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu” repeatedly to associate blame on Asian Americans.

According to the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, there have been more than 2,583 anti-Asian American hate incidents reported between March and August.

Among the reports, seven out of ten incidents involved verbal harassment, which included racial slurs, name-calling, and profanities. Shunning, the deliberate avoidance made up 22% of the incidents. Physical assaults made up 9% of the incidents. Online harassment made up 4.8%.

More than half of Asian Americans are worried about being subject to COVID-19-related hate crimes and discrimination, according to the 2020 Asian American Voter Survey.

As the nation is facing a second surge in the coronavirus infection, Asians like in Iowa fear their lives won’t be able to go back to normal under the racism against the Asian American community.

“The damage has been done, you can’t get back,” Huynh said. “Now, I feel like it’s being talked about a little more, and that anxiety has gone down. But it’s still there. It’s something that’s not going to go away.”