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Navajo Nation sees alarming rates of infection while battling COVID-19 with limited supplies

4 years 1 month 1 week ago Tuesday, May 05 2020 May 5, 2020 May 05, 2020 7:03 AM May 05, 2020 in News
Source: ABC News

The Navajo Nation has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 infection in the country, but its resources are also some of the most limited.

According to ABC News, COVID-19 is surging through the community and federal aid is desperately needed.

Dr. Sriram Shamasunder, co-founder of the HEAL Initiative at the University of California San Francisco, has been practicing emergency medicine from the back of a car. 

He’s there with a team of UCSF nurses and doctors helping the Navajo COVID-19 response team on the ground. 

The care this team can provide is sadly inadequate.

“[The] native population [is] similar to vulnerable patients all over the country, whether black or Latinx population… They are more susceptible,” Shamasunder told “Nightline.” “New Mexico Native Americans only make up 5% of the population but they make up 20% of COVID-positive [patients].”

Shamasunder has teamed up with locals like the COPE program’s Nitumigaabow Champagne. 

They’ve been doing rounds at a motel in Gallup, New Mexico, where the unsheltered and the sick can go to get off the street and away from extended families.

Most of the burden of caring for the sick in their community falls on the fellow Navajo. 

Historically, the U.S. government hasn’t helped much. In fact, it has a history of breaking dozens of promises made to Native American tribes for centuries, dating far past Johnson v. M’Intosh in 1823.

Congress has approved $8 billion for tribal assistance for COVID-19 relief, but that money has to be split among 574 tribes. 

And, tribal governments say the money has yet to arrive.

“Sometimes it goes through the federal agencies before it gets to the tribe, or through the states. We have been using the same process and wait. And you have to submit for the funding… But the need is now,” Navajo President Jonathan Nez told “Nightline.”

An estimated 30% of people who live on the Navajo reservations do not have access to running water, and turn to outdoor pumps to get their supply. It makes it that much more difficult to fulfill the constant handwashing necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Former Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch launched a crowdfunding campaign to help distribute food and water to the most vulnerable in her community. Branch is part of a larger grassroots effort to provide essential needs to the community.

“There are only 13 grocery stores available for my people,” she said.

Klee Benally is one of the group’s organizers. He’s been setting up the handwashing stations and distributing them around the reservation.

“It’s just one fix to address the hygiene issue,” Benally said. “[We] don’t wait until people are sick because the conditions that are making people sick and more at risk are right on this street.”

The Navajo and Hopi Families relief efforts have raised over $1 million, setting up makeshift hand washing stations and distributing them around the reservation.

Click here to donate to the Navajo Department of Health. 

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