COVID-19 on Navajo Nation

Illustration by Tonesha Yazzie.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez recently shared statistics during a virtual town hall meeting on his office’s Facebook page.

Nez said as of April 18, there had been 6,579 tests given with 1,197 residents testing positive for coronavirus, 70 of which were from that day alone. He also expressed reassurance things are improving because the number has decreased since they experienced spikes of more than 100 positive tests a few days ago. Nez told the audience the number of deaths on the Navajo Nation has reached 44, but that there hadn't been any reported on April 18.

“Our motto goes stay home, stay safe and save lives,” Nez said. “There is a shelter-in-place order that did not go away. The supermajority of Navajo people have honored this order.”

The order was issued on March 20 by the Navajo Environmental Health & Protection Program, Navajo Department of Health (NDOH). A 57-hour weekend curfew, from 8 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. the following Monday, restricting residents to only leave their homes in the event of an emergency went into effect April 10 and recently extended through the end of the month.

NDOH also announced an order on April 17 that anyone on the Navajo Nation should wear a mask when out in public settings.

Jenny Notah, public affairs liaison for Navajo Area Indian Health Service (IHS), stated in an email the organization is following CDC guidelines, among other resources, to combat COVID-19.

“The IHS Navajo Area Office and federally operated facilities have activated emergency response and facility readiness plans to monitor inpatient bed capacity and identify overflow facility locations and resources for referrals to manage surge capacity," Notah said. "We are working to ensure adequate numbers of staff, supplies, equipment, space, funding and other resources to meet the demand of increasing COVID-19 cases."

Although the Navajo Nation is faced with challenges in acquiring personal protective equipment — including non-N95 masks, gloves, wipes, etc. — local facilities still manage to receive some supplies using a variety of resources, Notah said.

“The Area is working to acquire some supplies internally through the IHS National Supply Service Center and local Supply Center, the Strategic National Stockpile, in coordination with the Navajo Nation and the states of New Mexico and Arizona,” Notah said.

Crystalyne Curley, lead public information officer of the Navajo Nation Health Command Center, said the center has established the Navajo Nation COVID-19 Fund, which accepts both monetary and non-monetary tax-deductible donations. A list of needed supplies and contact information can be found on the fund’s website.

Navajo Nation Attorney General Doreen N. McPaul and Navajo Nation Controller Pearline Kirk are managing the donation branch created by the command center, Curley said.

“They’re just making sure that all donations or contributions to the nation are properly done avoiding any type of scams or any type of fraud going through the Navajo Nation procurement process,” Curley said.

Curley mentioned other difficulties people living on the Navajo Nation face. Some of those include limited access to medical facilities and lack of reliable transportation, roadways and general infrastructure.

Although many residents do not have access to information online, the Federal Communications Commission recently granted temporary access to broadband service for those living on the Navajo Nation, according to a press release from the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President.

Curley also talked about the hotline established at the command center addressing concerns for administering more culturally significant medicine in lieu of the modern medicines being offered. Combining traditional and modern medical practices is an ongoing process Curley said they are working with individuals to resolve.

"The command center behavioral health services do what they can to assist constituents that are calling regarding any cultural issues or questions that they have,” Curley said. “I think the trend is that a lot of people are calling to get information about our traditional medicine and remedies, so we have traditional practitioners to give that guidance.”

Even with all the challenges being faced on the Navajo Nation, Nez expressed a message of hope to people during his town hall address.

“We will overcome this, we are strong beings … By working together we will overcome this monster of COVID-19,” Nez said.

More information and resources can be found on the NDOH website.