American Indians have greatest COVID-19 death rate in Wisconsin

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare long-standing inequalities when it comes to health outcomes, particularly devastating among communities of color, including native communities.

"That’s why we’re here, for native to native conversations," said Mark Denning during a "Native Strong" town hall event.

In its 46th week, the virtual COVID-19 town hall is held by the Gerald L. Ignace Indian Health Center in Milwaukee.

"And we are going through a historic time and that’s exactly why we’re here," said Denning, who is a member of the Oneida Nation.

"Right now, we have a lot of vaccines that are on deck right now," said Dr. Lyle Ignace, CEO.

On a recent Thursday, Ignace talked about vaccines.

"Time is going to show us how we are doing on giving shots equitably through all the demographics," Ignace said during the town hall.

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Data from state health officials shows communities of color have experienced higher rates of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths since the pandemic began compared to whites. American Indians number about 50,000 in the state, making up less than 1% of the population, yet they have the greatest death rate.

That said, native populations only trail whites in terms of the percentage of residents who have received at least one vaccine dose.

Ignace, who is a member of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Idaho, pointed to the fact that clinics like his on 9th and Mitchell receive vaccines from the federal government, not the state.

"I think that’s had an impact as we were able to start distributing Pfizer and Moderna vaccines almost immediately," he said.

That's not to mean there aren't challenges or concerns, which is why the weekly town halls are so important for connecting with different populations within the native community, estimating an average of 450 viewers each week.

"They need to have answers, and they need to get answers directly from someone like themselves," said Ignace.