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COVID-19 data in the Navajo community and why representation matters

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The unfortunate reality in the US is that not everything is as equal as we would like it to be. This extends to our healthcare system as well. These flaws have become even more apparent during the COVID pandemic. This is especially true when you look at COVID data in the Navajo community. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that American Indian and Alaska Native populations are 5.3 times more likely to be hospitalized because of COVID-19 than white people. As alarming as this statistic is, it is a reflection of the disproportionality in our country.

This information sounds like something that would cause us all to raise our eyebrows. But chances are, you will not have heard or read about this information in mainstream media. One of the biggest reasons for this is the way that COVID data in the Navajo community is represented. Historically, Native Americans are more susceptible to the virus. As a population, they are prone to chronic diseases such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes and asthma. This means that the COVID in the Navajo Community deserves more attention, but sadly this isn’t the happening.

So why is it that this topic isn’t getting the attention that it deserves? And how does the COVID data in the Navajo community compare to the rest of the country and the world?

COVID-19 Stats Disparity in Representation

It has become very apparent in the COVID data representation that the race and ethnicity data is incomplete. It is important to provide this level of detail in the stats so that the government understands which populations require additional help.  The reality is that the number of cases and deaths in the Navajo community is grouped into broader categories such as “other”.

The problem with using this method to represent COVID data in the Navajo community is that it reduces visibility. The COVID data in the Navajo community shows that case rates are more than four times higher than they are in white populations; particularly in:

New Mexico was one of the hardest hit areas for the Navajo community. The COVID data in the Navajo community there shows that there are 3624 cases per 100 000 Navajo people. This is a staggering 15 times higher than the rate in the white American population which is 234 per 100 000. 

How COVID data in the Navajo community is presented matters because historical issues have made them more vulnerable. And the allocation of resources is dependent on the quality of the available data. So what are some of the flaws in the COVID data in the Navajo community across the country?


Representation of COVID-19 Data in the Navajo Community

So there is one major consequence of being under-represented. If there is a health emergency within these communities, no one becomes aware of them. And the representation of COVID data in the Navajo community makes it highly likely that we could be facing an emergency that we are unaware of. 

As mentioned previously, COVID data in the Navajo community has been classified as “other”. By doing this, the lack of resolution makes the problem invisible. So considering the disproportionate effects on the Navajo community, hiding the stats only guarantees that things may go from bad to worse. 

The health authority in the Navajo community has pointed out that there have been 1197 positive coronavirus cases and 44 deaths. In April 2020, if the Navajo community had their own state, they would have the third highest coronavirus rates per 100 000 people in the country. It’s not that the Navajo community is more susceptible to the virus. Years of inequality have led to unequal access. This has resulted in the Navajo community being at a higher risk of developing complications because of the virus. 

COVID Data in the Navajo Community: The Impact of Undercounting

The under-representation of stats in the Navajo community is a long standing issue. The current issue with the COVID data in the Navajo community is simply another iteration of the same problem. What this means is that resources are not allocated the way that they should be, leading to even more lives being lost. A classic example of this is the treasury labelling 20 Navajo tribes as having a population of zero. As a result of this, these tribes were only eligible for $100 000 from the Coronavirus Relief Fund. The irony is that these tribes are penalized for not submitting their census data. However, this data is not used when the time comes to allocate funding for emergency situations. 

For a community that is so vulnerable, the accurate representation of stats is key. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that the representation of COVID data in the Navajo community has been less than accurate. Besides the lack of funding, lives are lost because of the misrepresentation. So what are the solutions to this issue, considering how big the consequences are? Are there policy changes that can improve the representation of COVID data in the Navajo community?

Solutions for Better Representation of COVID data in the Navajo Community

As is the case with most policy related issues, there is no such thing as a quick fix. As this is a systemic problem, it needs to be tackled “one bite at a time”. Some of the short-term policy solutions that could help to start fixing this problem are:

  • Fund calculation and allocation: Currently, these calculations are based on census data which is inaccurate. The calculations and allocations should be based on tribal enrollment data instead of the census data. This could be especially effective because the submission of this data is mandatory.
  • Providing data sets with higher resolution: The COVID data in the Navajo community should have their own category, as opposed to “other”. By making it a requirement for states to represent this data by race, the impact of the pandemic on the Navajo community will be much clearer. 

Here are a few long term policies that can be applied to assist with resolving this issue:

  • Having an agency responsible for tracking stats: The government should consider having an agency that focuses on ensuring that the stats provided are accurate and visible to all of the relevant parties.
  • Provisioning of funding: The government should ensure that funding is given directly to the Navajo communities as opposed to going through state or local governments. By doing this, the Navajo communities can allocate the funding where needed, based on their understanding of what their communities need. 

Concluding Remarks

The truth is that it is quite disheartening to still be having these kinds of conversations in 2020. But the bright side is that these issues are now visible and there are solutions to them. It is the responsibility of all Americans to make sure that we look after each other. This is especially true in the case of communities that have been previously disenfranchised. So as a nation, we should shed light on these issues as they have an effect on all of us in the long run. 

Furthermore, we should push our local and state representatives to ensure that they represent COVID data in the Navajo community as accurately as possible. This is especially true because of how difficult it is to access healthcare. Telemedicine is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to in-person medical visits. But this should not detract from the fact that all communities should have adequate access to healthcare.