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'Food insecurity, fresh water, lack of access to health care:' The impact of COVID-19's on Colorado's Native American communities

Gov. Jared Polis provided an update Tuesday on the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis started his Tuesday update on Colorado’s COVID-19 response with a moment of silence for the 200,000 people across the country who have lost their lives due to the virus since the pandemic began.

"To the hundreds of thousands more that are still recovering, we wish them well," Polis said. "While some recover quickly and easily, others have an arduous process of weeks or months as they regain their health."

Polis was joined by other state officials for the 12:30 p.m. briefing where they discussed the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on Colorado’s Native American communities and efforts underway to address those cases.

Polis said Native American communities across the country are experiencing about five times the hospitalization rates and 40 percent more deaths than whites because of COVID-19.

“Our community faces an increased risk of severe health complications due to the virus,” said Adrianne Maddux, executive director of Denver Indian Health and Family Services.

In response, the state has partnered with Denver Indian Health and Family Services to provide free testing for Native Americans across the state.

“Across Indian Country, factors such as food insecurity, fresh water, lack of access to health care, and struggles of obtaining the proper PPE to provide services to families that need it have been lacking and our communities have been underprepared and devastated," Maddux said.

The Colorado Department Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is also partnering with Denver Indian Health and Family Services to create a COVID-19 Native Reponses team.

The team will be made up of community members who’ve been trained in crisis counseling and will work to provide resources and mental health services to help support the communities.

The state is also working to develop culturally responsive public service announcements that relate to testing, hand-washing, face coverings and the importance of mental and physical health care.

"As an administration, we're doing everything we can to reduce these inequities," Polis said.

The update with Polis also came amid a recent increase in cases at university campuses like CU Boulder.

On Monday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) reported 152 current hospitalizations for COVID-19 statewide, up from 138 last week. The seven-day positivity rate was 3.22% on Monday, up from 2.75% last week.

Polis said the biggest concern is community spread, and he encouraged students to avoid parties and large gatherings and emphasized the continued need to wear masks and practice social distancing.

“We need to step it up a bit to continue to make sure that Colorado is a reasonably safe place to live and work and play during the biggest global pandemic in a century,” Polis said.

RELATED: Colorado coronavirus latest numbers, Sept. 22

CU Boulder reported 94 new cases on Monday, after the same number of new cases the day before, 130 new cases on Sunday, and 100 on Saturday. The university's isolation space was 71% filled on Monday.

The university has announced it's shifting to remote instruction for the next two weeks in an effort to reduce the number of new cases on campus.

RELATED: CU Boulder to shift to remote instruction for at least two weeks

On Friday, Polis urged college students to "act responsibly" and get tested if they're feeling sick. He announced two free testing sites in Boulder: a walk-up site at the Pleasant Street parking lot on the Hill and a drive-thru site at the Stazio ballfields.

"By getting tested, you are doing your part," Polis said Friday. "You're a hero. You're saving lives. You're doing the right thing."

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