69: Tribal Communities COVID Response

Lynn Trujillo, Secretary of the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department, explains the challenges and successes of the COVID-19 response in her state’s tribal communities; Mylynn Tufte, North Dakota’s former state health official, prepares to discuss...

Lynn Trujillo, Secretary of the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department, explains the challenges and successes of the COVID-19 response in her state’s tribal communities; Mylynn Tufte, North Dakota’s former state health official, prepares to discuss how to lead with gratitude in tomorrow’s final Insight and Inspiration event online; ASTHO announces new job openings; and Richa Ranade, ASTHO’s Senior Director of Overdose Prevention, offers her “thankful” note as we anticipate Public Health Thank You Day next Monday, Nov. 22nd.

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ASTHO webpage: Insight and Inspiration

ASTHO webpage: Job Opportunities in Public Health and at ASTHO

APHA webpage: Public Health Thank You Day

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This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Wednesday, November 17th, 2021. I'm Robert Johnson.

Here's today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


Chronic health problems, inadequate access to healthcare, and challenging living conditions—three concerns facing the nation's tribal communities before the pandemic, made worse by COVID-19.

Lynn Trujillo, secretary of the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department, tells us more in today's morning conversation.

What have some of the challenges been as you've worked to respond to COVID-19 in these communities?


There have been challenges in relation to testing, making sure that there was enough supplies and that there was enough personnel providing testing. There also were challenges with isolation.

Many of our tribal communities have housing shortages, but also are multi-generational households; and so, if somebody were to contract the virus, it could spread pretty quickly within a household. So, that was a challenge in terms of isolation.

There also were challenges with, you know, reducing people moving about and making sure that we could get food and water, sometimes fuel, out into remote tribal communities.

But because the state has good relationships with our sovereign nations and our tribal leaders, we were able to work together and overcome a lot of those challenges.


Well, and I wanted to ask you that—where do you stand today versus where you were a year and a half ago?


I'm grateful that we have the vaccines, and our tribal communities here in New Mexico have done a fantastic job in getting vaccinated—they have some of the highest vaccination rates.

But unfortunately, we're seeing cases continue to climb. And that's why it's even more important to continue to be vigilant today, just as we were in the early stages of the pandemic.


What do you think, looking at the last 20 months of work, counts as the biggest success so far?


I think for us here in New Mexico, our strong relationships and honoring our government-to-government relationships has really been a success.

I think the leadership of our tribal leaders, the leadership of our governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, and then just the spirit of native people and how we care for each other and how we want to protect each other and our tribal communities, but also our other communities and neighbors, you know, has really brought us together.

We're really resilient people. And I think that, you know, our beliefs and our resiliency and our indigenous knowledge has really helped us come together and work in partnership. And that's a huge success here.


It's getting colder, and certainly in Northern New Mexico I know it can be a little chilly this time of year.

How are you planning for the colder months as it relates to the COVID response?


Yeah, I mean, one of the things I think that we're really focused in on is we want to keep on encouraging everyone to get the flu vaccine in addition to getting their COVID vaccines and the boosters—you know, there's a huge effort in making sure that folks who've received their initial doses of the vaccine get their booster doses because we don't want the immunity to wane, and that's really important.

I also think we want to work hand in hand with our tribal communities to make sure that they continue to have isolation sites available or sites for quarantine in the event that there are COVID cases in crowded homes, and that we continue to support our tribal communities when they reach out with any needs related to food or water.

And so, you know, we're bracing for the cold winter months when we'll all be together inside. But I think if we can continue to remind people to practice social distancing, to wear masks, to continue to wash their hands, you know, hopefully we'll be able to tamp down on these numbers.



Leading with gratitude is about more than saying "thank you" every chance you get.

Former North Dakota health official, Mylynn Tufte, will talk about this tomorrow during ASTHO's last Insight and Inspiration conversation at 4:00 PM Eastern time.

Tufte shares a few thoughts with us—you can listen to those on yesterday's newscast. Then, use the link in the show notes to sign up for the event tomorrow.


Also, ASTHO is recruiting for open positions in several program areas. The organization is looking for an analyst to work on climate change policy, a vice president of finance, and a director of disparities elimination.

Visit the ASTHO careers page for these and other job listings.


Finally this morning, Public Health Thank You Day is less than a week away. And even though it's next Monday, November 22nd, we've been celebrating all month. Maybe you've heard some of the thankful notes we've received from people on this newscast.

Here's another one from Richa Ranade, senior director of overdose prevention at ASTHO.


I am really thankful and grateful to be a part of an organization where I get to work with really passionate and smart public health professionals, as well as our partners in states and other national organizations who've kept up somehow, I don't even know how—momentum going on overdose prevention during the last 20 months when it's been really, really challenging and difficult and resources have been pulled in a lot of different directions.

And so, I'm just really grateful to be a part of something where I still feel like I'm making a difference despite everything that we've all been going through.



Remember, every story in this newscast has a link to follow for more information, and those can be found in the show notes.


That'll do it for today's report.


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Be sure to join us again tomorrow morning for more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.

Richa Ranade

Senior Director of Overdose Prevention, ASTHO

Lynn Trujillo

Secretary, New Mexico Indian Affairs Department