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COVID-19 UPDATE: MAY 7, 2020

Urgent work focused on prevention and emergency relief

Tribal communities are particularly at risk and being affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The Navajo Nation in particular has some of the highest infection rates per capita in the country. Our team is continuing its urgent work to protect and support Native Americans through a comprehensive response that includes help with surveillance, contact tracing, and mitigation activities; distribution of protective gear for health care settings and homes; emergency food, water, prevention information, and household supplies for families in need; and development of materials to address mental health-related consequences from the pandemic. We are coordinating our efforts with the Indian Health Service and tribal health and human service departments.

Photo: Nina Mayer Ritchie

Expanding testing on Navajo and White Mountain Apache lands

This past week, our Center established a collaboration with the Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE), founded by actor Sean Penn to expand COVID-19 testing efforts with the Navajo Nation and the White Mountain Apache Tribe. Diagnostic testing is a cornerstone of a sound public health response, urgently needed in Native communities where the virus is spreading rapidly.

Mr. Penn and CORE’s CEO, Ann Lee, who is a Johns Hopkins alum (School of Advanced International Studies 2004), met our Infectious Disease Program lead, Dr. Laura Hammitt, last Friday, May 1 in Tuba City, AZ to see the needs of Navajo Nation firsthand. 

They visited several hospitals and community sites and met with Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. CORE has committed to fund-raise and work side-by-side with our Center to expand diagnostic testing and related wraparound services in both tribal nations. This effort parallels CORE’s drive-through testing initiative in major U.S. cities including Mr. Penn’s hometown of Los Angeles.

The Center was connected with CORE through the Rockefeller Foundation, with particular advocacy by Ann Rockefeller Roberts, the granddaughter of one of the founders of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Ms. Rockefeller Roberts responded to our call that the national testing strategy being mounted by the Rockefeller Foundation needed to include tribal communities, who were among the most vulnerable to the virus. Ms. Rockefeller Roberts has spent her life advocating for the rights and well-being of Indigenous peoples. 

Our Strongest Warriors, Our Strongest Medicine: Overcoming COVID-19

The psychosocial stressors of COVID-19 are severe within tribal communities. As part of our response, our Center’s mental health team is working with Native experts in child development and communications to write and distribute a storybook to mount a strengths-based approach for young children and their caregivers. 

Titled, “Our Strongest Warriors, Our Strongest Medicine: Overcoming COVID-19,” the book is an adaptation of “My Hero is You,” developed for children across the world by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings. Our Center convened a team of Native American experts in child development and communications to re-write the story and hired a young Native artist to create illustrations that represent Indigenous peoples, values, and communities.

Indigenous storytelling is a tradition that has supported the well-being and resilience of tribes since time immemorial. This adapted story seeks to reach Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island (Earth) and portray a sense of communal efficacy, strength and hope in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The book will be publicly available and free for download on our website.  Printed copies will be distributed throughout Indian Country as part of our relief efforts and through our Family Spirit home visiting program. We are grateful to Johns Hopkins Alliance for a Healthier World for supporting this project.

What we can learn from the First Peoples of the United States in the era of COVID-19

Op-Ed in The Hill by Dr. Allison Barlow and Dr. Laura Hammitt

Native American communities, often invisible or oversimplified in terms of their health inequities, are the most at risk in the U.S. for severe disease and higher death rates from COVID-19. 

However, the frugal innovations that will come from Indian Country during this pandemic will afford essential lessons for the world and it won’t be the first time. 

Read the article in The Hill.

Impact of Nick Kristof’s C-19 Initiative

As of this week, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has helped raise $3.98 million for the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health and four other global organizations he highlighted in his April 26 column.

To support broad-based relief efforts across Indian Country with these funds, including many of the U.S.’s 574 federally recognized tribes and 37 urban health centers for Native American peoples, the Center is proud to be collaborating with three national Native-run organizations: the National Congress of American Indians, the National Indian Health Board, and the National Council of Urban Indian Health.

Hand washing stations for Navajo families

It is difficult, even impossible, for some Navajo tribal members to follow COVID-19 prevention handwashing guidelines due to lack of running water and basic hand washing facilities in their homes. To address this, the Center is working in partnership with the Navajo Epidemiology Center, IHS, and regional collaborators to build and distribute at least 100 portable handwashing stations directly to households in need, prioritizing homes with COVID-19 patients that lack running water. The handwashing stations are built with supplies already available in communities or purchased from lumber supplies in nearby border towns. We have purchased enough supplies for 100 stations and expect to go far beyond that, refining our plans and logistics as needed.

Educating tribal members about COVID-19

We now have over 15 fact sheets available for tribes including:

Plus, radio scripts are available for tribes to use on topics including COVID-19 Symptoms (30 and 60 second).

View all materials for tribes.

Inspiring donor stories

To Our Donors: We Appreciate You! 

In large part due to the increased media visibility of our work due to Cynthia McFadden's NBC TODAY Show piece about the dire situation on the Navajo Nation and Nicholas Kristof's column in the New York Times, we are deeply grateful for the over 500 new donors who have given to our COVID-19 prevention and relief efforts, as well as made contributions as general support for our Center's overall mission to improve the health and well-being of Native Americans.

We are heartened by the incredible response from across the country to address the serious inequities Native Americans face, which have been exacerbated and brought to light for the broader American public by the COVID pandemic. We hope this can help lead to long-term, systemic change.

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