SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The Native American population makes up about 9% of South Dakota’s estimated 884,659 residents. But the population accounts for about 13% of all coronavirus deaths in the state, according to the South Dakota Department of Health.

The COVID Tracking Project lists that Native Americans account for 8% of the population but account for 14% of all COVID-19 deaths and cases in South Dakota. The percentage is flagged because the 14% is at least 33% higher than the census percentage of population, remains elevated whether cases/deaths with unknown race/ethnicity are included or excluded and is based on at least 30 cases or deaths, according to tracking project.

As of Nov. 10, the death rate for American Indian and Alaska Natives, (the definition used by the Centers for Disease Control and other tracking) was 108.3 per 100,000 as of Nov. 10, according to the APM Research Lab. That was slightly lower than the 113.3 rate for blacks. APM’s data is tracked from April 13 through Nov. 10. The rate for white Americans was 61.7 per 100,000 as of Nov. 10.

The COVID-19 situation on tribal lands in South Dakota has prompted two Native American legislators to ask Gov. Kristi Noem to establish a mask mandate. Rep. Peri R. Pourier and Sen. Red Dawn Foster said the mask mandate is needed to protect the citizens and communities they represent as well as all South Dakotans.

The CDC released a study on Aug. 28 that said in 23 states with adequate race/ethnicity data, the cumulative incidence of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 among American Native or Alaska Native persons was 3.5 times that among non-Hispanic white persons.

The age of Native Americans dying from COVID-19 from May through August was younger than the trend in the U.S., according to the CDC. Most deaths in the indigenous population were under 65.

In South Dakota, the majority of all deaths in all races combined are 60 and over, according to the state DOH. The state does not break down age of death by race.

In Buffalo County in the Crow Creek Indian Reservation, the American Indian population makes up about 82% of the population.

As of Nov. 30, there have been eight deaths in the county with a 2019 estimated population of 1,962 and 378 cases. The death rate per 100,000 people in the county is 390, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

The death rate for American Indian and Alaskan Native population is 172 deaths per 100,000, according to the COVID-19 Tracking Project.

The COVID-19 death rate in Buffalo County is lower than four South Dakota counties with a greater percentage of a white population. Jerauld County’s rate is 641 per 100,000, Turner County’s is 508, Gregory County’s is 476 and Falk County’s is 431.

A portion of the Rosebud Indian Reservation is in Gregory County.

Buffalo County has a lower percentage of persons 65 and over than the other four counties. The CDC has listed those 65 and over as more vulnerable to COVID-19. The county’s estimated 2019 population was 1,962 with 7.5% age 65 and older.

The American Indian or Native American population in the U.S. has several factors that make it more vulnerable to COVID-19, according to research and reports.

The Native American population in the U.S. has significant health disparities, including chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Those types of underlying conditions can make them more vulnerable to COVID-19. 

Research on Native American Health cites various factors that contribute to health issues in that population. One factor is the perceived trust barriers. Also,  historical trauma, boarding schools, poverty and other factors contribute to health issues in the population, according to other studies.