Los Angeles County Native American organizations launched a public service announcement Monday to urge native communities to strictly follow public health orders to protect themselves against the coronavirus pandemic, highlighting disproportionate risk and alleging underreported data.

The Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission, local American Indian and Alaska Native organizations and Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell partnered to produce the one-minute PSA aimed at a population at high risk for contracting the virus.

The PSA’s tagline — For Our Ancestors. For Our Families. For Our Future — serves as a call to action in a message that features local Native community members.

“We know that any messaging to our community is best delivered via trusted messengers,” LANAIC Chairwoman Chrissie Castro said. “What’s beautiful about this effort is that our Native organizations came together to produce and share this culturally appropriate message. It reminds our community that embracing healthy practices, including our cultural ways, is a way to honor our ancestors, to protect ourselves, our community and our future.”

As of Saturday, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported 112 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and nine deaths within the AIAN population. Local Native leaders believe the data is underreported, due to ongoing AIAN misclassification in data collection and reporting, and said the AIAN population is disproportionately at risk for COVID-19.

“Health and mortality data for AIAN is notoriously misclassified and underreported. Use of the more restrictive AIAN only definition effectively cuts the size of the AIAN population in half, while misclassification in mortality data can lead to underestimates as high as 50%,” said Dr. Andrea Garcia, who serves as a LANAIC commissioner.

“Knowing that we have had to actively combat demographic erasure by continually educating and advocating for use of proper definitions of AIAN speaks to one of the many ways that systemic racism has historically and continues to affect our community through the pandemic,” she said.

At the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the LANAIC convened the LA Native COVID Response Working Group, a collective of LA-based AIAN serving organizations, to provide resources and support to the community.

Many health and economic risk factors make Native Americans vulnerable to the impacts of the COVID pandemic including:

— disproportionate rates of underlying medical conditions that may lead to a compromised immune system, such as diabetes, heart disease and lung disease;

— mortality rates from coronary heart disease and diabetes more than double that of other races;

— a higher percentage of uninsured individuals; and

— a higher rate of poverty, with 56% of adult AIAN households reporting incomes of less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Level.

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