Montana Native Americans found to be more susceptible to COVID

BUTTE, Mont. - Montana's Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) released a report earlier this week that mentioned how COVID is set to become the third-leading cause of death in Montana for the second year in a row. However, the pandemic seems to be having a more severe effect on certain populations.

The report details that Native American populations are not only more susceptible to COVID than white Montanans, but also the mortality rate among natives has been four times higher.

The report, which spans January 2020 through September 2021, also indicates that the median age for Native American COVID deaths, 68, is much earlier than white Montanans, 80.

Montana DPHHS says those numbers have less to do with vaccination rates and more to do with social risk factors, such as lower household income and multi-generational housing.

"The fact that perhaps [Native Americans] have more shared housing or multi-generational houses means that if a person in the household becomes sick with COVID-19, it's much harder to isolate that sick person, and therefore that infection will go throughout the entire household," said Laura Williamson, the Montana DPHHS state epidemiologist.

DPHHS calls this the Social Vulnerability Index, and although Native American populations are at higher risk than others, taking precautions such as social distancing and vaccination are still effective ways to fight the spread.

"The vast majority of these deaths were preventable, through taking prevention measures and getting vaccinated," said Todd Harwell, the DPHHS administrator for public health and safety. "To get through this pandemic, we need to all be doing the things to help protect ourselves as well as protect our families and our communities."

The good news is that DPHHS says that native communities, such as the Blackfeet Reservation, have taken measures like lockdowns and mask mandates to combat these risk factors. DPHHS says that these efforts should greatly reduce the mortality discrepancy going forward.

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