Stacy A. Bohlen, Chief Executive Officer, National Indian Health Board
Francys Crevier, Chief Executive Officer, National Council of Urban Indian Health
Dr. Mary Owen, President, Association of American Indian Physicians
Rear Adm. Michael D. Weahkee, Director, Indian Health Service
Across the Indian health system, we continue to work in close partnership to prevent, detect, treat and recover from COVID-19. We are working diligently to distribute new vaccines that can help protect individuals from COVID-19. In the first two weeks of vaccine distribution, 85,000 doses have been distributed through the IHS to federal, tribal and urban Indian health programs. This is a great start, but it will take time to deliver and administer the vaccine to everyone who needs it.
Until then, we need to continue to diligently prevent the spread of COVID-19 by consistently practicing the "3 Ws":
Wear a mask: Wear a mask with two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric that covers your nose and mouth and fits snugly against the sides of your face to help protect yourself and others.
Watch your distance: Stay 6 feet apart and avoid crowds. The more people you are in contact with, the more likely you are to be exposed to COVID-19.
Wash your hands: Use soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place, or hand sanitizer if soap and water aren't available.
With colder weather and more people indoors – we find that pandemic fatigue is setting in. Maintaining physical distance from those we love is difficult. The holidays are typically a time to reconnect with family and friends. As we are seeing cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, we must renew our sense of personal accountability to protect ourselves and those around us.
This holiday season, I encourage you to please think about how your holiday plans can be modified, so that you can stay connected with friends and loved ones while reducing the spread of COVID-19 to keep your friends, families, and communities healthy and safe.
Travel increases the chances of getting and spreading COVID-19, so staying home and celebrating with members of your own household is the best way to protect yourself and others.
Hosting a virtual gathering can allow for social interaction while maintaining a physical distance. The safest thing to do is to stay home, but if you do decide to travel, testing can help you do so more safely. Testing does not eliminate all risk, but it can help make travel safer by identifying individuals who have COVID-19 but do not have symptoms.
Spending time with loved ones is an important part of promoting all aspects of our health - physical, mental, social, and spiritual. This year, however, it is important to focus on slowing the spread of COVID-19, to decrease hospitalizations and deaths in our communities. Native communities are strong and resilient. Together, we will get through this.
Whatever traditions you hold dear at this time of year, we wish you a safe and meaningful holiday season.
Stacy A. Bohlen (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians) is the chief executive officer of the National Indian Health Board. NIHB was established by tribes to advocate as the united voice of federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes.
Francys Crevier, JD, (Algonquin) is the chief executive officer of the National Council of Urban Indian Health, a national organization devoted to the support and development of quality, accessible, and culturally-competent health services for American Indians and Alaska Natives living in urban settings.
Mary Owen, MD, (Tlingit) is the president of the Association of American Indian Physicians, a national American Indian and Alaska Native physicians association. Dr. Owen is also director of the Center of American Indian and Minority Health and an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Biobehavioral Health at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Rear Adm. Michael D. Weahkee (Zuni Tribe) is the director of the Indian Health Service, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The IHS is the principal federal health care advocate and provider of health care services for American Indians and Alaska Natives.