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.