This May Be Hardest-Hit Virus Spot in US

Navajo Nation in Southwest
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 12, 2020 7:52 AM CDT
Updated May 12, 2020 9:16 AM CDT

(Newser) – A sign of just how badly the Navajo Nation has been hit by the coronavirus: The international relief agency Doctors Without Borders, better known for helping in war-ravaged nations, has sent a team to the US Southwest to help Native Americans. It's the agency's first US medical presence, reports CBS News. Coverage:

  • Alarming stats: The Navajo Nation has about 175,000 people on land straddling Arizona, New Mexico, and a small part of Utah, and it has more than 3,100 cases of COVID-19. That's 18 cases per 1,000 people, and the AP notes that if the Navajo Nation were a state, it would have the highest per-capita rate of any in the US. (The AP story is a deep dive into how the Navajo Nation is coping.)

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  • The factors: Generally, members of the nation are more likely to have underlying conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart conditions that make COVID-19 deadlier. An estimated 1 in 3 residents lack access to running water, which complicates hand-washing, and a drive of 100 miles to get food or water isn't uncommon. Plus, medical facilities and doctors are scarce, part of the reason DWB sent a nine-person team to Gallup, NM, reports CNN.
  • A worry: "I hear a lot of people saying, ‘Close the borders, shut down, shut down,’” says Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. "Our folks are supposed to be helping get water for the livestock, water for the household. You shut all that down, how can our elders wash their hands with soap and water if there’s no water available for them?"
  • More broadly: The New York Times reports that tribal nations across the US are facing their biggest crisis in decades because of another coronavirus factor: casinos are shut down. The revenue is vital in providing basic services to Native American communities, and the lack of money will make it that much harder for those communities to recover from the pandemic. One Harvard scholar likens the current trouble for Native Americans to that of the end of bison herds in the 19th century.
  • South Dakota standoff: Two Sioux tribes in South Dakota continue to maintain checkpoints on roads leading through their reservations to try to limit the spread of COVID-19. They are refusing orders by Gov. Kristi Noem to disband the checkpoints, and Noem is now exploring legal action. The Argus Leader has a background piece on what's happening.
(Ireland is trying to help the Navajo Nation, too.)

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