Analysis & Comment

Covid’s Toll on Native Americans

Covid’s death toll in Indigenous communities has no modern precedent.

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By German Lopez and Ashley Wu

Carol Schumacher of the Navajo Nation had grappled with untimely deaths; her mother died at 65 of pulmonary disease, and her father died at the same age in a car crash caused by a drunken driver. But she was not prepared for the devastation of Covid: Since it arrived in the U.S. more than two years ago, she has lost 42 family members to the virus.

Dealing with the massive death toll strained her own health, Schumacher told our colleagues. “I just wasn’t mentally prepared to deal with so much loss,” she said.

That loss has been tragically common among Native Americans, the C.D.C. revealed last week: From 2019 to 2021, their life expectancy fell from 71.8 years to 65.2. Covid was largely to blame.

U.S. life expectancy

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