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COVID-19 cases rising faster on reservations in Minnesota

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Native Americans have contracted COVID-19 at two to three times the rate of white Minnesotans over the past month, according to state health officials.

There are large pockets of unvaccinated people in the 18 to 49 age range in Minnesota’s tribal communities and across the country, according to Mary Owen, director of the Center for American Indian and Minority Health at the University of Minnesota medical school.

“We have some folks who are not getting vaccinated, whether it’s because they’re resisting it or because they’re not able to get access. Not quite sure. It’s probably a combination of those. But that’s impacting us again, significantly,” said Owen, who is also president of the Association of American Indian Physicians.

Owen says that’s especially concerning because Native Americans have high rates of health disparities that put them at higher risk for serious COVID-19 illness, such as diabetes, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.

“We have some very frail people in our communities that cannot afford to get infected. We have to protect them,” Owen said. “So please, do what’s right for our communities, not just for us as individuals.”

The Leech Lake reservation has recorded its highest numbers of positive COVID-19 cases over the past month since the pandemic began.

The White Earth reservation had hardly any COVID-19 cases on the reservation throughout most of the summer, but cases started to rise in August, and peaked in late September.