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Minnesota Native News

180 EpisodesProduced by Minnesota Native NewsWebsite

Minnesota Native News is a weekly radio segment covering ideas and events relevant to Minnesota’s Native American communities. Made possible by the Minnesota Art's and Cultural Heritage fund


Powwows Present Challenges, Opportunities for COVID Precautions

[Loon sounder]


This is the Minnesota Native News Health Report, I’m Marie Rock.


This week…COVID infection rates are on the rise. Reporter Feven Gerezgiher shares some of the latest data…..and connects with organizers about what they are doing to prevent COVID-19 at powwows and other large gatherings.




As of May 3, preliminary counts from the Minnesota Department of Health show more than 2,500 newly reported cases of COVID-19 across the state. The seven day average more than tripled from early April.


The latest CDC data estimates 62 percent of new cases nationwide are BA.2, a subvariant of omicron.


Health officials say BA.2 spreads more quickly than previous strains, yet so far does not seem to cause severe illness. They encourage getting vaccinated and boosted as the strongest protection against COVID-19


For links to free testing and vaccination clinics, check out minnesotanativenews dot org slash health.






When vaccines became more widely available last year, more people began feeling safe to gather in large crowds again. Some powwow organizers even said they had record attendance in the pandemic, following an isolating 2020 when most powwows were canceled.


Despite that is awareness that COVID-19 is yet present.


My name is Sharon Lennartson. I’m tribal chairwoman with the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Tribal Community.


The community is planning their powwow for September and taking into consideration what precautions against COVID-19 might be needed.


Last year, they tried to enforce a vaccination policy and check temperatures, yet found that difficult without enough volunteers.


We made announcements, you know, if you don't feel well please don't come to the powwow. You know, if you know you had COVID, if you have COVID don't come to the pow wow but other than that that’s about it.


…Well, we have signs up, you know, I had COVID signs made up as everybody was doing back then. You know, stay six feet away, wear a mask. So we did everything we were supposed to do as far as that goes but you can put up 100 signs, whether people listen to it or follow the rules was a whole nother story but we did the best we could. 


The Gathering of Nations in New Mexico had 80,000 attendees over their three day event in 2019, and comparable numbers last weekend. To prepare this year, the organization partnered with a  COVID support services provider to offer vaccines.


This is VIP StarNetwork CEO and founder Johonniuss Chemweno.


It was a great event. We winded up giving quite a bit of COVID-19 vaccines, Pfizer vaccines out to patients that were eligible for their boosters with the most updated information that came out from the FDA and the CDC related to various populations that were eligible for a second booster. In addition, we were there for people that were hesitant that still are unvaccinated. So we're able to talk with a variety of patients that had been waiting for various reasons whether they came from immunocompromised backgrounds and they had questions. They're able to speak with some of our nurses and healthcare providers that were at the booth.


Johonniuss said some people got their first doses of the vaccine at the event and were able to schedule later appointments for second shots.


He said including essential health care services at large gatherings can help link people to medical services available regularly within people’s communities.


Consumers today have adjusted to a new way of health care. I call it the new health care, in terms of consumer driven, simplified access to various medical services. In this regard, we were talking about COVID-19 vaccinations, as well as immunizations outside of COVID and various metrics of outreach. And so when it comes to why somebody would get a booster at Gathering of Nations versus going to a pharmacy, you know, per se, or a hospital system, it's because we've made it simple, and we’ve made it very easy by being there. 


And so that's almost outlines what we're seeing across the nation in terms of mobile health care, accessible health care and simplified access, in terms of ensuring that people don't have to go out of their way, scheduled time away from their friends and their family and their other day to day activities when things can be right there for them in this regard, you know, COVID-19 vaccines, first shot, second shot, and various boosters.


At the Gathering, another company also offered free at-home tests and a CDC sponsored group educated leaders of different nations, tribes, and pueblos on COVID resources available through the Indian Health Service.


For the Minnesota Native News Health Report, I’m Feven Gerezgiher.


[Health report funder credit]


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