Navajo Nation takes aggressive steps to ward off virus
Earlier this week, New Mexico’s governor Michelle Lujan Grisham warned President Trump she feared the coronavirus could “wipe out” tribal nations and the White House has taken action to assist the community.
The president of the Navajo Nation also addressed the situation, telling ABC News he believes aggressive measures being taken now will help to reduce the likelihood of increased spread in the community.
“We have a shelter-in-place here in Navajo Nation and have a curfew, and we are doing our best to slow down the spread or even stop the spread of coronavirus,” said Jonathan Nez, who was elected president of the tribal nation in 2018. “People are already in their houses and hunkered down.”
Nez said the shelter-in-place order is similar to those in a number of states now, advising residents to stay at home but allowing them out for necessities. “Curfew is a pretty much a lock-down from 8 p.m. on,” he said, noting officials are monitoring it with roadblocks.
The latest figures show 174 people have tested positive and seven have died in the tribal territory that spans portions of three western states and has a population of more than 250,000. Officials in New Mexico and Arizona have both expressed concerns about the ability of the Navajo Nation to contain an outbreak.
This week the Arizona National Guard reportedly flew in doctors and supplies and helped set up a make-shift hospital with 50 beds.
Experts agree there is valid reason for concern as to how well the Navajo Nation would hold up under the strain of novel coronavirus.
Hilary Tompkins, a member of the Navajo Nation and the former solicitor for the U.S. Department of the Interior, which serves the federal trustee for Native American tribes says,
“The Native American population is particularly vulnerable not only due to underlying health disparities and high poverty rates, but also because many Indian reservations lack basic, modern day amenities such as running water, access to the internet, and connection with the electrical grid, which are vital during a pandemic.”
She said access to full-service healthcare is lacking during optimal conditions.
“These factors create a perfect storm for the virus to devastate tribal communities, which we are witnessing right now with my tribe, the Navajo Nation,” she said. “Our federal trustee must act quickly to support tribal leaders in their fight against the coronavirus in order to save the lives of First Americans.”
The outbreak of the virus in the reservation is believed to have spread at an evangelical church rally in Chilchinbeto, Arizona, on March 7, according to a Los Angeles Times report. The Navajo Nation government declared a state of emergency on March 13, one week later, before ultimately issuing a reservation-wide shelter-in-place order for all residents on March 20.
President Nez told ABC News he believes the tribal response is working.
“We're really getting out the information, letting people know to take care of themselves so that we don't have a large spike here at Navajo Nation,” Nez said. “We’re doing our best to educate people. We have our healthcare professionals going door to door.”
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