April 8 (UPI) -- American Indians are twice as likely to contract COVID-19 and have a four-fold higher risk for death from the disease compared to White people, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Between March and November last year, an estimated 9,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported for every 100,000 American Indians, and 267 died following infection.
Over the same period, just over 4,000 cases were reported for every 100,000 White people, and 71 of them died following infection, CDC data showed.
The findings are based on an analysis of nearly 50,000 COVID-19 cases and 903 virus-related deaths in Montana, which has a high American Indian or Native American population, conducted by the state's Department of Public Health and Human Services.
Because Native Americans in Montana are more likely to live in shared housing, be essential workers who can't work from home or be unable to telework because of a lack of internet access, the CDC said they are more likely to get infected with the coronavirus.
"In addition, [they] might be more at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 due to challenges accessing health care, and because COVID-19 risk factors, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and cigarette smoking, are common," the agency said.
From the start of the pandemic in March 2020 through Nov. 30, more than 63,000 people in Montana were diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC.
Just over 7,000, or 14%, of these cases occurred in American Indians, while about 39,000, or 79% were in White residents, the data showed.
Of the 903 COVID-19 deaths in Montana during the nine-month period, 23% involved American Indians and 74% involved White residents.
American Indians account for about 7% of Montana's population, while White people make up about 90%, the agency said.
The disparities might have been more pronounced had leaders for several tribal reservations not instituted measures designed to limit virus spread in the fall, according to the CDC.
In a separate report released Thursday, the implementation of strictly enforced stay-at-home order and mask-wearing regulations on the Blackfeet Tribal Reservation on Sept. 28 were found to reduce total COVID-19 cases there 33-fold -- from a peak of 6.40 cases per 1,000 residents per day on Oct. 5 to 0.2 on Nov. 7.
Wearing face masks, physical distancing, using remote learning and quarantining after exposure -- in addition to barring the public from Glacier National Park's east gate, located on tribal ground -- contributed to the declining rates, according to the CDC.
Conversely, the agency noted that a tribal investigation indicated that COVID-19 case increases followed relaxation of stay-at-home orders, the opening of campgrounds and events such as Labor Day gatherings and the Northwest Montana Fair and Rodeo.