New data and a Cherokee Nation death

A person walks along the Las Vegas Strip devoid of the usual crowds after casinos have been ordered to shut down due to the coronavirus Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Las Vegas. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Indian Country Today

COVID-19: 'Our trajectory is basically the same as what they had in Italy'

Staff and wire reports

The Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma have confirmed the first COVID-19 related death, according to the Cherokee Phoenix. A 55-year-old Cherokee man died on March 18 after fighting a cold and then contracted the coronavirus disease.

The death of a tribal citizen that has been confirmed is one of the nine cases reported in the Indian health system as of March 19. On Wednesday, the Navajo Nation confirmed its third case, a 62-year-old Navajo man.

Several state governors President Donald Trump Thursday that their states are in dire need of federal help as they expand measures to contain the new coronavirus, with Louisiana's governor saying his state's health system could be overwhelmed in a week.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said a surge in new cases filling hospital beds could push past the state's capacity to deliver health care in seven to 10 days as New Orleans becomes one of the nation's virus hot spots.

"Our trajectory is basically the same as what they had in Italy. And if there's anything I said today that ought to get people's attention, it is that," the Democratic governor said. "If we are not going to look like Italy in 10 days or two weeks, it will only be because of these mitigation measures."

In their teleconference with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, governors pressed for more supplies — masks and other protective equipment for medical professionals, test kits and life-saving supplies such as ventilators.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she wanted better coordination between the federal government and the states regarding the supply chain for essential medical equipment.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz ordered health care providers to postpone elective surgeries and other medical procedures so they can focus on responding to the anticipated surge of coronavirus cases.

"The greatest risk we face during the COVID-19 pandemic is overwhelming our health care systems and limiting their ability to respond to emerging cases," Walz said in a statement.

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are a warning to young adults: They are not immune. It shows that in the past month that 38 percent of those hospitalized were younger than 55 years old. While it’s true that the risk factor increases for older people, the preliminary data shows that “severe illness leading to hospitalization” including the Intensive Care Unit “can occur in adults of any age with COVID-19.”

At the White House briefing, task force leader Dr. Deborah Birx said said there is a fear that young people are not taking enough precautions because they weren’t concerned about being at risk. “There are concerning reports coming out of France and Italy about some young people getting seriously ill and very seriously ill in the ICUs,” Birx said. Millennials may have a “disproportional number of infections” and “so even if it’s a rare occurrence it may be seen more frequently in that group.”

The one demographic bright spot. The task force has “not seen any significant mortality in children.”

There is a new normal, an upside down world.

Some tribal citizens in the Southwest region are getting upset when requested to not shake hands or hug. They say they don’t believe the COVID-19 hype.

As guests checked in to a hotel in New Mexico a bottle of hand sanitizer greeted them at the counter but so did a nearly empty platter of cookies, uncovered and without tongs to pick up the free treats. Obviously many guests had already helped themselves.

A stop at another tribal resort gift shop were eight packs of hand wipes left unnoticed in the chaos to buy such supplies.

Along the drive through New Mexico and Arizona, tribal people went about their day shopping, eating at restaurants, pumping gas and working. Some could be seen wiping their hands with hand sanitizer but not everyone.

Even a medical doctor extended his hand before being interviewed about how rapidly COVID-19 spreads. The handshake didn’t happen instead the Vulcan salute was given.

Checking in at the Wingate High School in New Mexico a full jar of sanitizing wipes came in handy when using the pen to sign the visitor log.

During one interview a person walked by and recognized our journalist and came over for a hug. She was determined to ignore the reporter’s request to stay away until the reporter said her co-worker had been exposed to the virus at a conference. The woman literally ran away.

Then, there are still mixed messages in a lot of communities.

The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes declared a state of emergency this week, saying “that every member of the Fort Hall community plays an important role in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting other community members, especially elders and individuals with underlying medical conditions … During this State of Emergency, we strongly urge individuals to be diligent in preventing the COVID-19 spread and follow the CDC guidelines of social distancing, proper hand washing, and staying home as much as possible. We highly recommend refraining from personal travels to any known high-risk areas that have an outbreak.”

Except, that is, the casino. A Facebook announcement reported that it is open and no worries, casino surfaces will be cleaned often. “During this unprecedented time, everyone could use some fun and excitement,” the casino said.

Read the comments from patrons and see why. “I was there tonight,” wrote one person. “Employees were wiping every machine down & seats. I will continue to go as long as they are open.”

That pretty much captures the state of this emergency. Across much of the country people go on as close to normal as possible. Some workers are at risk while cleaning slot machines while others are required to wear substantial personal protective equipment. The virus is the same in either case.

The data shows that tourism in Indian Country is going to be hit hard by the pandemic. A research note by Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s, said that tourist activity will be the industry most impacted by the fallout. He estimates a loss of 11 percent of all tourism-related jobs, or 16 million jobs. Think hotels. Casinos. Resorts. That’s followed by transportation and the mining and oil and gas industries. Zandi predicts job losses of 24 million overall.

Brookings Institute, industries at risk.

A paper by economists at the Brookings Institution says: “While essentially all of America will likely be affected by COVID-19’s economic effects, those effects will be distinct and varied from place-to-place. Given that, we must not only act quickly, but also attend to the unique regional and local impacts within this national crisis.”

Fresh vegetables

Fresh vegetables. Dairy products. Fresh fruit. Baked goods. Fresh fish.

Those were some of the items that were donated to people in need throughout Southwest Michigan and Northern Indiana from the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians.

The food that would normally be used at the Pokagon Band’s four casinos was what was donated. The Pokagon Band closed all of their gaming facilities as a precaution to COVID-19. In total, the tribal nation donated nine pallets of food from its casinos, totalling 7,450 pounds of food.

“Given the recent closure of our casino locations and the uncertainty of the evolving Coronavirus situation, we felt compelled to donate these unused foods items as soon as possible so they could be used by community members in need,” said Matthew Wesaw, Tribal Chairman of the Pokagon Band. “We hope it will bring comfort to recipients during this challenging time.”

Americans are increasingly worried they or a loved one will be infected by the coronavirus, with two-thirds now saying they're at least somewhat concerned — up from less than half who said so a month ago.

Still, a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that about 3 in 10 Americans say they're not worried at all about contracting the COVID-19 illness. And while the survey found that most say they're taking at least some actions to prevent the disease from spreading, experts say it also shows the country is not yet doing all of what's needed to reduce infections, such as canceling travel.

“Some set of people is still going about their daily lives, and that needs to change pretty rapidly," said Caroline Pearson, a senior vice president at NORC at the University of Chicago and a health policy expert. “Now they need to do the hard things, not just the easy things that don't disrupt their life."

The poll found that younger adults have greater concerns about the coronavirus than older Americans, with 43 percent of adults under 30 being very worried, compared with 21 percent of those age 60 and over. Pearson said that may be because younger people are more likely to feel uncertain about jobs or health insurance or to worry about older family members like parents or grandparents.

That disparity by age does not match the threat posed by the virus. Deaths to date in the U.S. mirror the experience in other countries, with about 4 out of 5 fatalities occurring in people 65 and older, and no deaths in children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the poll found that about 3 in 10 Americans say they're highly worried about the illness, about the same number are unconcerned — with 7 percent saying they were not taking any of the prevention measures asked about in the poll, including more frequent hand washing or staying away from large groups.

That's a red flag for Libby Richards, a Purdue University nursing professor who teaches courses on population health.

“We do need that 33 percent to change if we're going to keep this under control as much as possible,” Richards said, adding that “maybe that 7 percent of people are already excellent hand washers, but I doubt it."

The survey found that about 9 in 10 Americans say they’re washing their hands more frequently, roughly 7 in 10 are avoiding large groups and about 6 in 10 are avoiding touching their faces. Older Americans are especially likely to say they’re avoiding large groups, with 77 percent saying they’ve done that in response to the coronavirus.

Public health officials have urged people to do their part to slow the spread of the virus before hospitals and other health facilities are overwhelmed. Schools and sporting events have been canceled, and restaurants and Las Vegas casinos closed. President Donald Trump's administration said Monday that people should avoid social gatherings with groups of more than 10 people.

But of those who had travel plans in the next few months, a minority — 22 percent of those who had domestic travel plans and 41 percent of those with international travel plans — say they've canceled them. About another 3 in 10 of each group say they've considered canceling, while the rest are still planning to travel.

On Saturday, Trump expanded European travel restrictions due to the global pandemic, telling Americans, “If you don't have to travel, I wouldn't do it.” The CDC has advised that travelers are more likely to get infected if they go to a destination where the virus is spreading and in crowded settings such as airports. Numerous tribes have restricted outside visitors to their communities, too. The Navajo Nation was the latest tribal nation to ask visitors to not visit the nation. At the time of the tribe’s Wednesday announcement, two cases tested positive for COVID-19 because the “bug” came from off the nation.

The poll was conducted March 12-16, when information about the virus was changing rapidly, as was the Trump administration's reaction to it. Trump declared the pandemic a national emergency on March 13, making up to $50 billion available for local and state governments to respond to the crisis, and announced a range of executive actions aimed at expanding testing for the virus. The administration also started work on a $1 trillion aid and stimulus plan.

Richards said she's hopeful the numbers of Americans worried about the coronavirus would be higher in a poll conducted entirely after Trump declared the national emergency. Still, she said she's been troubled by people who don't seem to be taking the warnings seriously, including those she's seen in images of crowded Florida beaches.

For most people, COVID-19 causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. It can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, for some people, especially older adults and those with existing health problems. Most people recover — those with mild illness in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks, according to the World Health Organization. 

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The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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