Navajo Fight Crushing Battle Against Coronavirus

Their infection rate is America's third-highest
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 26, 2020 3:35 PM CDT
Navajo Battle America's 3rd-Highest Infection Rate
Vehicles line up for COVID-19 testing outside of the Monument Valley Health Center in Oljato-Monument Valley, San Juan County, on Friday, April 17, 2020.   (Kristin Murphy/The Deseret News via AP)

The Navajo are battling America's third-highest coronavirus infection rate after New York and New Jersey as they scramble to treat the sick—and it's clearly an uphill battle, NPR reports. Their challenges include lack of hospital space, lack of nursing, lack of equipment, and facilities that simply aren't designed for respiratory care. "We basically changed our hospital from an acute care hospital and an ambulatory care clinic to one that could take care of respiratory care patients," Diana Hu, a doctor at a reservation hospital, tells NBC News. "And that transition happened over a period of about seven days." The situation forces them to fly patients to Albuquerque, Flagstaff, and Phoenix as strike teams try to help in communities, but endemic Najavo problems aren't helping.

Officials say the lack of clean, running water makes it hard to promote hand-washing, and contact-tracing can be tough when people live hours apart or have no phone—reminders that American tribes have long lacked funding for essential infrastructure. "We are United States citizens but we're not treated like that," says Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. "You can hear the frustration, the tone of my voice. We once again have been forgotten by our own government." Apropos, the Navajo have joined 10 tribes in suing the federal government, saying their combined $8 billion share of $2 trillion in relief money is far too low. The Navajo—who number roughly 175,000 across Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico—had 1,540 coronavirus cases and 58 deaths as of Friday, the AP reports. (More coronavirus stories.)

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