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With the increase of COVID-19 cases across the country, the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) on Thursday announced it will supply more than one million masks to distribute to schools for the health and safety of the tribal communities it serves.

The BIE's action comes in the wake of Indian Country being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 cases, including among school-aged Native American students.

“Tribal communities have been seriously impacted by the pandemic and have taken proactive measures to protect their communities to stop or slow the spread of COVID for the past two years. With this initiative, we are leveraging our existing resources in rural and remote communities to improve access to protective masks and respirators,” said Bryan Newland – Assistant Secretary, Indian Affairs. “These are critical public health tools that teachers, administrators and students need to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.”

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BIE will distribute 600,000 surgical masks for K-12 students at all 183 BIE-funded schools and 600,000 N95 respirators to K-12 schools for staff and adults in student’s households, as well as to Haskell Indian Nations University and Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute for students and staff.

“We must each do our part to protect ourselves and each other,” BIE Director Tony L. Dearman said. “We are deploying every resource at our disposal to help protect our students, staff and Tribal communities from this devastating global pandemic.”

By early February, the Biden-Harris administration is issuing 400 million free non-surgical N95 respirators to local pharmacies and community centers to stop the spread of COVID-19.

In support of this effort, BIE’s goal is to provide additional access to protective equipment in tribal communities it serves.

For more information about infection rates in Indian Country, visit the Indian Health Service at https://www.ihs.gov/coronavirus/.

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