A Look at the Impact of COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation

The Navajo Nation – the largest reservation in the country – is greatly distressed in the fight against the global coronavirus pandemic, as reported by Time. The Navajo Nation has more than 1,300 confirmed cases on the reservation and counting. However, there are only four inpatient hospitals, all of them operated by the Indian Health Service (I.H.S.) in Chinle (Arizona) and Crownpoint, Shiprock and Gallup (New Mexico) with just 222 beds – not nearly enough to accommodate the 175,000 residents living on the reservation.

The Navajo Reservation has seven I.H.S. outpatient clinics and five part-time health stations. But some I.H.S. facilities are understaffed by as much as 45 percent. The Navajo Nation also operates four health facilities in Arizona (Fort Defiance, Winslow, Tuba City and Ganado) and one in Utah (Montezuma Creek), the largest of which has 73 beds.

Community Spread on the Navajo Nation

Several factors explain why the Navajo Nation is experiencing such a rapid spread of positive cases. Navajo families tend to house multiple generations under one roof, therefore putting everyone in the house at greater risk of contracting the virus, especially Elders. As it is, many of the Elders are more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 on account of the high prevalence of chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Further escalating the issue is the fact that roughly 40 percent of Navajo residents have no access to running water, making it difficult to follow federally recommended handwashing guidelines to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Navajo Leaders In Action

In an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 on the reservation, Navajo President Jonathan Nez issued a stay-at-home order in late March, including a nightly curfew that requires residents to stay home between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. every day. This month, Nez took further measures and issued a 57-hour weekend curfew, ordering people to stay home from Friday, April 10 at 8 p.m. until Monday, April 13 at 5 a.m. in hopes of curbing the spread over the Easter holiday weekend. Checkpoints were set up for enforcement and the mandate will be extended until the first weekend of May. Violators who do not follow the mandate could face up to 30 days in jail or a fine of $1,000, or both.

PWNA partner Alberta Begay at the Cove Chapter Senior Services Center in Arizona had to temporarily halt their congregate meals, which are typically served to Elders five days a week. Instead, they and other senior centers with good vehicles are now home-delivering meals to the Elders. Alberta shared, “some Elders were shocked to hear they had to stay at home, and we still get calls asking if they can come by the center yet.” She tells them staying at home is to ensure their safety and the safety of the other Elders. The Cove Senior Center has been a PWNA partner for 10 years.

How to Help

Although tribal leaders are taking aggressive steps to fight the spread of the virus within the Navajo community, there is still much that can be done to aid residents who have limited access to food, water and medical care. There are only 13 grocery stores on the reservation and the Navajo Nation Council is conducting food distributions but the lines are more than five miles long in a single day, according to Indianz.com.

PWNA is assisting the Navajo and other reservation communities impacted across the Southwest, as well as tribes in the Northern Pains like Pine Ridge, Standing Rock and Northern Cheyenne. Please consider donating to the PWNA COVID-19 Tribal Emergency Fund and spreading the word to friends and family about the need to assist the Navajo and other tribes during this critical time – every contribution helps in the fight against COVID-19.

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