RAPID CITY –Last week, Jerilyn Church, CEO of the Great Plains Tribal Leaders’ Health Board, appeared on NPR’s Here and Now to discuss how COVID-19 has impacted tribal-citizens in South Dakota.
Here & Now is a public radio magazine program produced by NPR and WBUR in Boston and distributed across the United States by NPR to over 450 stations, with an estimated 4.5 million weekly listeners. The mid-day news program is a go-to resource for a significant segment of radio news audiences.
With death rates rising and the number of new infections continuing to grow across the Great Plains region, tribal governments and Native American health organizations have been proactively responding to the pandemic for many months.
In the interview with NPR, Church said that the actions of tribal leaders in the region and the willingness of Native American people to listen to healthcare experts helped control the spread of COVID-19.
Early on, “we were telling people to wear a mask. We were telling people not to attend the rally. We were telling people to stay home,” said Church. “While our governor was in conflict with some of our tribal leaders about the measures they put in place to close their borders, we saw that our numbers, despite our anticipation that they would be much higher –were consistent with the percentage of infection rates in South Dakota.”
Church said that the position taken by tribal-communities towards the virus have proven worthy and effective, they have been in contrast with the views of South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem.
“What we saw was our people taking this virus so much more seriously than the general population. What we saw was our tribal leadership taking so much more responsibility to keep people safe than our governor was,” said Church