By Ivy Vainio
Recently, it seems every time I log onto my Facebook page, I see at least one new post about an individual or family I know who has tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19). Many of these folx are Indigenous.
According to a recent Minnesota Public Radio article there is a 75% increase in positive COVID-19 infections in Minnesota American Indian communities in October. The common denominator for this rise is, unfortunately, family gatherings.
A White Earth Nation health representative stated they are seeing up to 29 active cases a week. On a national scale, the Centers for Disease Control reports there are a total of 8,617,022 cases with 488,498 within the last seven days (as of October 26th) and 224,601 COVID-19 deaths in the United States.
The American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO) has been leading a state-wide and tribal community public health communications effort since this past April to keep our Indigenous community updated with factual information about COVID-19 safety, free testing, Case Investigation and Contact Tracing (CICT protocols), etc.
We received two professional technical contracts from the Minnesota Department of Health alongside five other state-wide Indigenous organizations, with the collective goal of sharing culturally relevant resources and education around COVID-19 in tribal communities.
As part of these contracts, we worked with 15 Indigenous, mostly Anishinaabe, artists to create beautiful and impactful content (posters, coloring sheets, and videos) with culturally appropriate messages that share visual cultural Indigenous teachings and values, for all ages, about important COVID-19 health safety practices while holding onto traditions. We are continuing this important work of informing our communities about COVID-19 testing, symptoms, and CICT.
In addition to working with Indigenous artists, and our online/social media marketing, we filmed three Indigenous physicians who work at the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe Reservation Human Services Division. Mary Owen, MD (Tlingit Nation), Arne Vainio, MD (Mille Lacs Ojibwe), and the clinic’s Medical Director Charity Reynolds, MD (Mexican American and Indigenous) participated. Each physician shared things we all should know about CICT recommendations, expectations and facts. Each video is around 2 minutes and the messages/scripts were written by each physician.
Dr. Charity Reynolds, who recently lost her mother to COVID-19, shared with us why she wanted to participate in this video project, “I was initially drawn to medicine because, growing up, I saw firsthand the health disparities that afflicted those who live in rural areas, minorities and Indigenous communities. My undergraduate degree is in public health, and it is such a fundamental branch of medicine to eradicate disease, especially during a pandemic. As a minority, I understand the importance of making healthcare accessible for all and will do whatever I can to provide the best care for those who need it the most. My one piece of advice is for us to think about how can we love others during this time, as we are all in this together.”
As this pandemic is nearing what appears to be its second wave, let’s do all we can to prevent our families and our relatives, friends, neighbors, coworkers, classmates, team mates, and community members of all ages and all backgrounds from getting and dying from this disease. I look forward to when this pandemic is over, when there will be less and less Facebook posts about my friends testing positive and/or their loved ones dying from COVID-19.
I also look forward to the day when I get to hug my mother and my 94 year old Anishinaabe grandma again. This pandemic has taken a lot of precious moments away from me and many of us, but if we are to get through this we all need to actively take precautions to keep everyone safe.
Wear a face mask, stay 6 feet apart, wash/sanitize hands, and stay home when possible. Who is worth saving for you?
- Important reminders:
If you have COVID-19, stay home (in isolation) until all three of these things are true:
1. You feel better. Your cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms are better,
2: It has been 10 days since you first felt sick,
3: You have had no fever for at least 24 hours, without using medicine that lowers fevers.
If you have had close contact with someone who has been told by a doctor, clinic or hospital that they have COVID-19:
1. Stay home and away from others for 14 days.
2. Get tested. However, even if you get a negative test result, you still need to stay home for the full 14 days.
3. Watch yourself for symptoms.
For more information about COVID-19 testing and symptoms, go to Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 Response website: https://mn.gov/covid19.