Native Americans in Nebraska work to avoid pandemic fate of Navajo Nation

Published: Apr. 30, 2020 at 6:42 PM CDT
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Nebraska's Native American Tribes are going to great lengths to avoid an outbreak of the coronavirus like one striking Navajo Nation, the county’s largest reservation.

“I worry about it,” said Lawrence Parker, a member of the Omaha Tribe. When asked what he worries about most he said: “Getting it myself, it just worries me.”

Parker is one of roughly 2,500 members of the Omaha Tribe living on the reservation; just north is the Winnebago reservation.

“We have such comorbidity within the Native American population,” said Mona Zuffante, Winnebago Public Health Administrator. “So we’re already fighting diabetes, and heart disease, and respiratory, including a high prevalence of asthma within our communities.”

Add on top of that the threat of Covid-19 and the system is pushed too far.

“We’re already stretched so thin with the resources that we have to try to fight diabetes and other things that when you add another layer it just stretches us so thin that it’s hard to combat,” said Zuffante.

Both the Omaha and Winnebago tribes are under shelter-in-place orders, have curfews, and no-visitor policies. But there are concern orders alone won’t be enough.

“It’s really testing I think that that is the main thing to get across is that more available to test the more that we know those particular people are carriers of virus so we can try to contain it as best we can,” said Zuffante.

There is one hospital in Winnebago that serves about 10,000 people in the area, but it’s not equipped to handle an outbreak

“We looking at setting up if needed,” said Zuffante. “An alternative medical site where we could put the less severe cases and of course this is a worst-case scenario which we hope doesn’t happen.”

There has been one confirmed case of Covid-19 on the reservations. It was reported last week from the Winnebago Tribe.

Both the Omaha and Winnebago reservations are in Thurston County, which sits just below Nebraska’s biggest hot spot for the virus in Dakota County.