Statistical gaps can make it difficult to properly allocate public resources to Native Americans. When that’s the case, one leader said, “tribal nations have an effective death sentence.”

The New York Times
By Kate Conger, Robert Gebeloff and Richard A. Oppel Jr.
July 30, 2020
Updated 11:16 a.m. ET

HARRAH, Wash. — As the coronavirus outbreak in Washington State’s Yakima County worsened last month, Tashina Nunez recognized more and more of the patients who arrived in her hospital. They had coughs, fevers and, in some severe cases, respiratory failure. And many of them were her acquaintances and neighbors, members of the tribes that make up the Yakama Nation.

Ms. Nunez, a nurse at a hospital in Yakima County and a Yakama Nation descendant, noticed that Native Americans, who make up about 7 percent of the county’s population, seemed to account for many of the hospital’s virus patients. Because the hospital does not routinely record race and ethnicity data, she said, it was hard for Ms. Nunez to know for certain.

“Not being counted is not new to us,” she said. Without firm figures, she and other health care providers for Native communities said they struggled to know where or how to intervene to stop the spread. “You don’t know how bad it is until it’s too late,” Ms. Nunez said.

By mid-July, more than 650 members of the Yakama Nation, in central Washington State, had contracted the virus — about 6 percent of the total membership. Twenty-eight people have died, Delano Saluskin, chairman of the Yakama Nation, said in a video update.

In New Mexico, Native American and Alaska Native people have accounted for nearly 40 percent of virus cases even though they make up 9 percent of the population.

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