By: Dustin Jansen, Utah Division of Indian Affairs & Multicultural Advisory Committee – State of Utah COVID-19 Response
Native Americans are facing the same challenges as the rest of the U.S. population during this COVID-19 pandemic. But for many reasons, the pandemic has taken a greater toll on our Native communities. Native American communities suffer from disproportionate rates of asthma, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes, which makes us more susceptible to the coronavirus. All the while our underfunded Indian Health Services do all they can to continue to serve their communities. I am grateful for the diligence of our tribal government leaders as they exercise their best judgment to keep our people safe. I am also grateful for state offices and agencies that have come together with tribal governments to combat this virus.
We as a state, as communities, and as individuals have felt the burden of COVID-19. It has placed a magnifying glass on issues that continue to disportionately affect the same groups crisis after crisis. In my work with the Utah Division of Indian Affairs and the Multicultural Advisory Committee of the State of Utah COVID-19 Response, I have seen our Native communities and other underserved populations bear the brunt of this pandemic. The disparities in wealth, health, and resources existed prior to COVID-19, but this time, it has come at such a cost that we cannot ignore it. Many within our Native American communities have suffered loss of employment, or a reduction in work hours. Many of our children are not able to access a quality education because of the lack of infrastructure needed to provide reliable internet. We find ourselves without family support as we practice social distancing. Lost jobs, livelihoods, and the passing of loved ones underscore the need for unity, action, and care.
With case counts on the rise, it is really a matter of life or death that we take safety guidelines to heart and mind. Native American communities are centered in social gatherings with family. With the holidays coming, we need to find good ways to stay connected. I know how hard it is to limit face-to-face contact with loved ones, but it is for their safety as much as yours. Wearing a mask and adhering to guidelines is a sign of love and consideration. I wear a mask and keep my physical distance from my family members outside my household because I care deeply about their health and safety. I wear my mask because I care about my community. Wearing a mask keeps my family and community healthy, but it shows my respect for those I may come in contact with.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless these days. But we do have the power to follow the best practice guidelines set forth by the Utah Department of Health to protect us all. We can wear our masks. We can keep our hands clean. We can limit our face-to-face contact with family members and friends. We may be using our cell phones a lot more this holiday season to stay in contact with loved ones. I hope that our nation’s health system can soon come up with a vaccine and more effective treatments. Until then, I will continue to pray for our safety, for our good health, for our tribal nations, and for the strength to do what is right.