New Brunswick, N.J. (Mar. 25, 2020) – Rutgers scholar Camilla Townsend is available to discuss the historical susceptibility of Native Americans to disease and the heightened public health concerns among tribes due to COVID-19.

"In January, when I began to read articles by epidemiologists about the coronavirus, I first thought of myself because of my compromised immune system and my husband, who has hypertension,” she said. “Then it came to me that we are the lucky ones, as we will have some level of quality care and thus a good chance of surviving. The same will not be true for the residents of Native American reservations. Exactly 500 years ago, in the spring months of 1520, European colonizers unleashed the first small pox epidemic in the Americas, and it devastated the indigenous population on both continents. Now, in this crisis, Native Americans will undoubtedly pay a higher price, proportionately, than any other group in our nation. Health care on reservations is notoriously poor. Clinics are distant, understaffed and under-equipped. Due to the dumping of toxins on reservations, a higher proportion of people have cancer than is the norm. Due to the diet associated with poverty, more are diabetic. Elders will not be able to self-isolate as they live with their extended families. The death toll is likely to be devastating." 

Townsend, a Distinguished Professor of history at Rutgers–New Brunswick, is an expert in Native American history and the author of Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs (2019).


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