Senators Urge Pence to Approve COVID-19 Emergency Funds for Tribes

A microbiologist performs a manual extraction of the coronavirus on March 6, 2020. (Flickr/CC Photo by Governor Tom Wolf, https://tinyurl.com/s9s8kgh)

While 27 U.S. senators push for more “meaningful engagement” with Tribes, some Indian Nations are actively working with their partners at the federal and state level to assure their preparedness.

Hospitals nationwide are preparing to treat what could be millions of admissions nationwide as cases of COVID-19 spread, according to the American Hospital Association (AHA). As of March 9, more than 110,000 people have been infected with COVID-19 globally, including more than 550 cases confirmed in the United States, and the global death toll has risen to more than 3,800, with 21 deaths reported in the U.S. 

Business Inider reported on AHA’s leaked presentation from late February, which was prepared with representatives from the National Ebola Training and Education Center. The presentation contained an overview of the virus and projections of just how much it might spread across the states. “Best guess” estimates said there could be 96 million novel coronavirus cases overall in the U.S., with 4.8 million hospitalizations in the U.S. alone associated with the virus, and 480,000 deaths. 

As hospitals throughout the U.S. brace for a surge in admissions, a bipartisan group of 27 U.S. senators have urged Vice President Mike Pence to approve COVID-19 emergency funds for Tribes following congressional passage of a bill that includes $40 million for Tribes. 

The $40 million in funds to Tribes, Tribal organizations and Urban Indian Health Organizations is part of the $8.3 billion measure to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak, signed by President Donald Trump on Friday. The $8.3 billion bill also includes a boost of $950 million in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grants to state and local governments. 

So far, the virus has hit at least 32 states — many of them home to Tribes and urban Indian communities. 

U.S. Sen Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, led the group in asking Pence to “meaningfully engage” with Tribes. The letter states: 

“The U.S. government has specific trust and treaty responsibility to provide American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/ANs) with comprehensive quality healthcare. While the IHS serves as the primary agency charged with provision of AI/AN healthcare, all federal healthcare-related programs and initiatives — including the COVID-19 response — share equally in the requirement to fulfill these trust and treaty obligations. 

 

“Additionally, to ensure proper precautions and response measures are deployed efficiently, it is imperative that Tribal and urban Indian health teams have access to Congressionally allocated COVID-19 resources and the most up-to-date information regarding the presence of COVID-19 in their communities.  

 

“As the IHS noted in its February 24th announcement, the state of the COVID-19 threat ‘is a rapidly evolving situation, and information is likely to become dated quickly.’ As such, it is incumbent on the Administration to keep Indian Tribes, Tribal health departments, and urban Indian health programs apprised of any relevant developments in real time.” 

Tribes Take Precautions 

Meanwhile, Tribes are taking action to prepare their health departments and protect their members. 

As Executive Director of Cherokee Nation Health Services Dr. Stephen Jones told a local news station in Oklahoma: “We are one of the few Tribes, or I think the only Tribe, that is recognized as a public health authority — the same as the state is recognized as a public health authority to the CDC; so, we have a direct communication with them.”

A Cherokee Nation leadership team — comprised of physicians, nurses, infection prevention, and other subject matter experts — are meeting daily to review contingency plans for the coronavirus, News on 6 reported, adding that Cherokee Nation Health Services intends to initiate their own virus testing soon. In the interim, the Tribal health department advises members on health.cherokee.org/corona-virus-covid-19 that the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) has the capability to test patients. Oklahoma currently has one confirmed case of COVID-19 and four persons under investigation pending results. 

Native Business previously reported on the Navajo Nation COVID-19 Preparedness Team created to monitor, plan, prepare, and coordinate precautionary efforts to address COVID-19. Multiple other Tribes are similarly taking the necessary, proactive steps to prevent the virus’ spread and to prepare Tribal and state health systems for testing and increased admissions. 

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