Navajo Nation turns the corner on coronavirus

By KIARA BRANTLEY-JONES, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — The Navajo community suffered one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates per capita in the country just three months ago but with the implementation of strict public health measures such as curfews and mandatory mask-wearing, Navajo Nation has curbed the spread of coronavirus.

Overall, the number of coronavirus cases have declined in the Navajo community. The latest figures from the Navajo Department of Health, in coordination with the Navajo Epidemiology Center and the Navajo Area Indian Health Service, reported 19 new COVID-19 positive cases, 6,893 recoveries and no recent deaths, according to a press release from the office of the president and vice president of Navajo Nation.

Jonathan Nez, who was elected president of the tribal nation in 2018, implemented a lockdown order in April to curb the rising number of COVID-19 cases within the Navajo community.

“We have had curfews and we still have curfews today because we’re not letting down. There’s no vaccine,” President Nez told ABC News’ Nightline. “There’s no cure for COVID 19. So we’re not going to let down here.”

In addition to having 57 weekend curfews, tribal governments are working to improve access to water for many residents by allocating funds from the CARES Act into the community to get needed infrastructure.

“Our people are hauling water … most of the time they’re getting their water for their livestock and [it] leaves a little bit for drinking and even personal hygiene,” said President Nez. “And so if we can get running water to our families, that could really accelerate the push back on COVID-19 here on the Navajo Nation.”

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.

The lack of accessibility makes it more difficult to fulfill the constant handwashing necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A grassroots effort called the Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund has been working to combat these disparities by distributing food, water and other essential needs to the most vulnerable in the community since March.

“We’ve provided food and some PPE to over 80,000 households,” said Cassandra Begay, communications director for the Navajo and Hopi Families Relief Fund.

In community hotspots where COVID-19 positive cases surged a few months ago, the grassroots effort provided COVID positive kits which included tents, cots, food and medicine. These kits allowed community members who tested positive for coronavirus to recover in isolation without increasing the risk of infecting other family members in multigenerational homes.

Although COVID-19 cases in the Navajo community are on the decline, precautions are still being taken to ensure that a resurgence does not occur in the next few months.

“We can’t afford for this virus to continue devastating our communities,” said Begay. “We can’t wait for the government to save us, our grassroots effort just speaks to the power in people and humans to do something for ourselves.”

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