Native Americans have experienced higher case rates and more severe disease and death during the COVID-19 pandemic than any racial or ethnic group in the U.S. During the pandemic Native communities suffered from increased food and water insecurity, a lack of PPE and household supplies, and intense social isolation. Despite the many harsh realities faced by American Indian and Alaska Native communities, today they have attained the highest vaccination rate of any racial/ethnic group in the United States and continue to display cultural strength and resiliency in myriad ways.
From the early days of March 2020 until today, Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health has been embedded with tribal organizations and the Indian Health Service in comprehensive COVID-19 mitigation strategies. We developed community-based outreach systems that pair contact tracing with wrap-around services to help families quarantine and isolate safely, delivering water, food, medicines and hygiene kits directly to homes. Our infectious disease team has provided tribes with data and guidance to determine policies related to lockdowns and curfews. Our courageous and dedicated frontline staff has led critically needed COVID-19 testing and vaccine blitzes.
Our health communication experts developed an online COVID-19 Resource Library to address the need for reliable information designed specifically for Tribal Leaders, community members and the healthcare workers that serve Native communities. This free, open source of materials provides science-based, culturally meaningful resources such as factsheets, videos, social media materials, guides, public service announcements and tools to help with management of the pandemic such as data interpretation and reporting.
We are currently piloting a “SafeSchools” testing model to help tribal schools re-open safely and stay open, with support services for children who test positive and their families. And we are working to modify our large portfolio of family-based programs to incorporate ways to address COVID-19-related anxiety, grief, depression, suicide, domestic violence and substance abuse, and promote nutrition, healthy family relationships, and supportive environments for children and adolescents.