July 07, 2020

Cortez Masto Raises Concerns About Tribes Being Denied Access to Critical Federal COVID-19 Data

Las Vegas, Nev. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and U.S. Representatives Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) in a letter calling on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to clarify their policies and practices regarding Tribal epidemiology centers’ (TECs) access to disease surveillance data, including data necessary to inform Native communities’ response to the coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Historically, infectious diseases have had disparate impacts on Native communities within the United States. Research and data available on previous pandemics caused by viral respiratory diseases, like H1N1, suggest American Indian and Alaska Native populations experienced a morbidity rate four-times higher than non-Native populations during these types of infectious disease outbreaks. Many Tribal leaders and Members of Congress are deeply concerned this trend is continuing with COVID-19, particularly because more than one-third of American Indians and Alaska Natives are at high-risk of serious COVID-19 complications due to underlying health factors,” wrote the lawmakers. “However, according to a recent Politico article, limitations on TEC access to national public health surveillance systems are hampering efforts by Tribes and Urban Indian Organizations to understand and respond to the full impacts of COVID-19 on their communities.”

TECs monitor the spread of COVID-19 in Native communities and study the underlying health risks that could put American Indians and Alaska Natives at higher risk for the disease. Under federal law, TECs are designated as public health authorities that should have full access to HHS and CDC public health surveillance data; however, the HHS and CDC have not granted TECs access to the data, restricting information TECs need to effectively manage COVID-19 outbreaks across Indian country.

A full copy of the letter can be found HERE.