The Navajo Nation received $600 million in federal funding on May 6 for assistance with the impact of COVID-19 on its community, according to a press release from the Navajo Nation Office of the Speaker.

The distribution of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding was delayed following its approval by Congress on March 27, due to questions regarding the validity of data provided to the United States Department of the Treasury, as well as the Department of the Interior from tribal governments, the press release also stated.

“Had we received the funding when Congress approved it nearly six weeks ago, we might be in a better position today,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a press release.

This CARES Act funding is stipulated as having to be used for only needs directly stemming from the pandemic as of March 1, with none of it going towards expenditures designated in the budget meeting on March 27, as documented in Navajo Nation legislation. Another stipulation is that this funding must be spent by Dec. 30 and any spending not approved by the federal government would be a debt incurred by the Navajo Nation.

The regulations attached to the funding have led to many dilemmas for plans to fund improvements to the water supply infrastructure, enabling more residents of the Navajo Nation access to running water, as expressed in a press release from the Navajo Nation Office of the Speaker.

Marshall Cohen, public affairs specialist for Indian Health Service (IHS), said a total of $234 million in COVID-19 supplemental funding was allocated to the Navajo Area Indian Health Service.

Through programs such as the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Emergency Supplemental Act, Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and IHS have allocated this funding to assist with tribally-operated health programs, testing and additional health care expenses, Cohen explained in an email.

“On April 3, IHS began allocating a total of $1.032 billion to the areas to support broad COVID-19 preparedness and response activities across the full IHS, tribal and urban Indian organization health system,” Cohen said.

Cohen said that allocation, as part of the CARES Act, was to go toward referred care costs, medical equipment, maintenance and improvements, as well as a modular unit at the Gallup Indian Medical Center to assist with a surge in ICU capacity. This also included activities typically funded from hospitals and health clinics, mental health, alcohol and substance abuse activities, community health representatives and public health nursing.

Another issue Cohen spoke about was the accessibility to and quality of personal protective equipment for the Navajo Nation.

“In April 2020, the IHS Navajo Area awarded a contract for one million KN95 masks under urgent and compelling authority to meet program needs,” Cohen said in an email. “At the time, the IHS Navajo Area determined there was no availability of masks in the U.S., and limited vendors who could supply the masks.”

IHS chose a vendor after considering quotes and availability, specifically contracting for KN95 respirators that are Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved and certified, Cohen explained.

However, Cohen said the respirators IHS received were not FDA approved and cannot be marketed or distributed in the U.S. as respirators.

Cohen further explained the respirators are not covered by FDA Emergency Use Authorization for use by health care personnel with some of the packaging stating, "This product is a non-medical device."

“The IHS is considering its options regarding the masks,” Cohen said. “None of the masks have been distributed or used and they are all at the IHS Gallup Regional Supply Center.”

The Navajo Nation has tested just over 20% of its residents, according to a recent press release from the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President. The state of Arizona has tested slightly more than 6% of residents, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services website.

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