The Navajo Nation, which is spread out through the American Southwest mostly in Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, now has the highest per capita Covid-19 infection rate in the country, as CNN reported.
The Navajo Nation’s alarming surge in cases is another example of an underserved and historically marginalized minority population being particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic.
As CNN reported, the Navajo Nation had a reported population of 173,667 on the 2010 census. With 4,002 cases, the Native American territory now has 2,304.41 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 people, overtaking New York has the most infected area per capita.
New York state now has a rate of 1,806 cases per 100,000 and New Jersey is at 1,668 cases per 100,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The Navajo Nation already has high risk factors of comorbidities, including diabetes, lung disease, high-blood pressure, hypertension and heart disease. There’s also a lack of running water, medical infrastructure, internet access, information and adequate housing, according to The Washington Post.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez told The Washington Post last week that the Nation had not “one cent” of the $8 billion that was allocated to Native American communities as part of the CARES Act passed in Washington on March 18.
The surge in cases in the Navajo Nation has overwhelmed rural hospitals that are ill-equipped to deal with the novel coronavirus. Near Gallup, New Mexico, there is only one hospital within 110 miles of the town center. Now, the hospital’s eight intensive care beds are all full, meaning coronavirus patients with severe breathing problems are sent away from both the facility and the adjacent Gallup Indian Medical Center, which attends exclusively to the Native American community, according to The Associated Press.
Only five of 12 Indian Health Services facilities in the Navajo Nation are tracking recovered coronavirus cases, meaning the number of infected patients is probably higher than what is reported. The Department of Health is now asking all facilities to keep an accurate count of recovered cases, according to the Navajo Times. So far, 24,886 Covid-19 tests have been administered with 18,380 negative results.
“The Navajo Nation is now engaged in large-scale testing and we are now testing at a greater rate than any other state in the country based on population,” said Nez, as the Navajo Times reported. “Without the weekend lockdowns that we’ve implemented based on advice from our health care experts, we would be seeing higher numbers.”
Nez added that he estimates about 80 percent of the Navajo Nation population is staying home, but the 20 percent who continue to venture out are still spreading the virus.
The Navajo Nation has implemented some of the country’s strictest stay-at-home orders. Even essential workers who leave their house must have a documented letter from their manager with a verifiable contact number, as CNN reported. However, one of the reasons for the spread is that Navajo tend to live in close quarters with multiple generations in one household. For the 30 to 40 percent of the population that lacks adequate running water, it is also impossible to wash hands frequently and properly.