Doctors, community concerned about COVID-19 risk to tribal elders

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TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (KFOR) – As the nation continues to grapple with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the Cherokee Nation says it is also struggling with the virus.

On Friday, tribal leaders with the Cherokee Nation announced that more than 4,300 tribal members have tested positive for COVID-19. Officials say 35 of those patients died.

At the start of the pandemic, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that they feared Native Americans were six times more likely to be hospitalized if they contracted the virus.

Now, concern is growing as the number of tribal elders with the virus continues to climb.

“When we lose an elder, we lose all the information, the encyclopedia of knowledge that that person is, about the culture,” said Carmen Marie White Eagle, a member of the Pawnee and Miami tribe.

Officials say access to health care, underlying health issues, and other economic factors could be putting tribal members at risk.

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