Navajo Tribe 'Hit Hard' By COVID-19, Yet Mitigation May Be Working - President

WASHINGTON (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 09th April, 2020) The largest Native American tribe in the United States, the Navajo Nation, is getting hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic as it rapidly spreads through the community in a matter of weeks, President Jonathan Nez told Sputnik.

As of Thursday morning, there are 488 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 20 deaths caused by the disease in the tribe, according to officials.

"We're getting hit hard... we're barely going up the curve while the rest of other states throughout the country, they're almost at the peak of this pandemic," Nez said. "This [virus] goes pretty fast."

As of Tuesday, the Navajo Nation has conducted more than 3,800 tests with 2,121 of them coming back negative, Nez said, adding that it may be a sign that mitigation efforts in the tribal community are working.

Most of the deceased tribal members had complications with the novel coronavirus because of pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which are common health issues in the community, Nez said.

Nez said they only have enough test kits to get through the week so they are depending on receiving more diagnostic tests from the federal government. Moreover, the Navajo Nation does not have enough hospital beds, equipment or medical staff to respond to a rapidly growing number of COVID-19 patients, Nez said.

"Ventilators, we have about half of our Navajo citizens who live on the Navajo Nation itself, so half of 350,000," Nez said. "The Navajo Nation is the size of West Virginia and if you put that into perspective we only have 50-plus ventilators here on the Navajo nation. We don't have the equipment on Navajo."

The Navajo Nation is seeking volunteer doctors and nurses who may be able to help alleviate the burden on the reservation's health care system, Nez said. Some nursing students who recently graduated from the University of Arizona are expected to provide support to the tribe soon, Nez said.

"Our team members because some of them have been going around the clock," Nez said. "We just fear many of them are going to burn out."

The tribe has received some personal protective equipment for health care workers from the strategic national stockpile and assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Army Corps of Engineers to help convert tribal facilities into quarantine centers, Nez said.

The Navajo Nation expects to hit its peak of COVID-19 cases by at least mid-May, but there is hope the warmer weather may be able to help slow the spread of the virus, Nez said.

Nez and other tribal members have been busy since February working on a campaign to warn the Navajo Nation about COVID-19. On Easter weekend, the Navajo Nation will be under a 57-hour curfew to help curb the spread of the virus.

Other Native American tribes are also beginning to feel the strain from the pandemic.

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe spokesperson Remi Bald Eagle told Sputnik earlier this week that their tribe is struggling to acquire enough reagents needed to conduct COVID-19 diagnostic tests for is community. The spokesperson said the tribe, which is located in South Dakota, has no confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Friday after it conducted ten tests, but the results of one test are still pending. Bald Eagle noted that the tribe has only 30 tests left.

In addition, Bald Eagle said their local health care facility does not have the capacity to care for a COVID-19 patient and would have to depend on an outside healthcare facility.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe, whose reservation spans North Dakota and South Dakota, confirmed its first COVID-19 case on Wednesday. The tribe said the individual is self-quarantined at home with family and they are being closely monitored for symptoms.

The United States has more than 432,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 14,800 deaths due to the disease as of Thursday morning, according to data published by Johns Hopkins University.