New Project Aims To Increase Covid Testing For Native Americans

Oct 13, 2020

Native Americans are more likely than most demographic groups to have serious complications if they contact the coronavirus.
Credit Kaiser Family Foundation

Native people are among the least likely to be tested for the coronavirus. There are several reasons for that, including lack of access to health care.

A team led by a Washington State University medical professor has won a federal grant to reach out to Native American communities and try to increase testing.

Dr. Dedra Buchwald says Native people have several things going against them when it comes to Covid.

“They have a higher prevalence of many of the conditions that predispose to getting Covid-19 disease, like pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease, obesity, other chronic diseases like diabetes or hypertension," she said.

They’re more likely to live in multi-generational households where the virus can be easily spread.

Buchwald and her team of researchers have been awarded $4.4 million from the National Institutes of Health. Her team includes researchers from the Universities of Colorado and Minnesota. They will work with Urban Indian Health programs in six cities with large Native populations to teach people about Covid and vaccinate them.

Buchwald says the outreach teams are immersed in their communities with good access to the people who need help. But even then, there are going to be challenges.

“Even though a test may be available, they may not want to go or maybe they can’t go. Maybe they feel stigmatized. Maybe they can’t take the time off work," she said.

Many Native people are among those considered ‘essential workers’ in service industries who make low wages.

She says the outreach teams that are participating expect to be out in the field within a couple of months and use a variety of strategies to reach hard-to-reach populations. They include using mobile testing units or establishing drive-through sites.