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New maps show pandemic impacts on Indigenous people in the U.S.

An image of COVID-19 data for American Indian communities across the country.
Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health
An image of COVID-19 data for American Indian communities across the country.

News brief

When Navajo Nation saw its first cases of COVID-19 in March 2020, Jourdan Bennett-Begaye started a spreadsheet. She's the managing editor of Indian Country Today, and the spreadsheet was a way to track coronavirus cases across Indigenous communities. At the time, that data was incomplete.

"I wanted this data to come directly from tribes and publicly available data," wrote Bennett-Begaye in a piece forIndian Country Today. "I also wanted to give the data back to them to use."

Instead of using a community's story without having anything to give back to them, she said "We wanted the database to be open to scrutiny and showed our homework. Our data stood out, too, because we were the only ones who had a mortality count in American Indian and Alaska Native communities."

Today, that spreadsheet has evolved into an interactive and comprehensive set of maps and data that are now available online. The project was a collaboration between the news outlet and the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health.

"This is so important in terms of allocation of resources," said Alison Barlow, who directs the center. "Whether it was PPE at the beginning of the pandemic, or diagnostic testing, antibody testing, and so forth. How do you distribute these federal resources if you don't know really where the hotspots are?"

Underfunded health systems have left Indigenous people especially vulnerable to the virus. Despite health inequities, American Indian and Alaska Native people have the highest vaccination rates in the country.

The maps are updated regularly using data from tribes.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Maggie Mullen is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. Her work has aired on NPR, Marketplace, Science Friday, and Here and Now. She was awarded a 2019 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her story on the Black 14.
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