The Navajo Nation announced on Wednesday, May 12 that it is extending its executive order declaring a state of emergency and government closures for the third time since the coronavirus outbreak began. The order, which was first put into place on March 13, will extend until June 7.
The announcement comes as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and fatalities continues to grow among the roughly 175,000 people who live on Navajo Nation lands, which span parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. According to the Associated Press, there have been 3,122 cases on the reservation — a rate of about 18 cases per 1,000 people. At least 100 people have died of the virus. This rate of infection means that if the Navajo Nation were a state, it would have the highest rate of coronavirus cases per capita after New York, according to NPR.
“There are unique challenges that these communities have to deal with,” Jamila Taylor, the director of health care reform and senior fellow at The Century Foundation, told Supermajority News. “Access to running water is a major issue for folks on Indian reservations; they don’t necessarily have the ability to wash their hands in the way they need to.” Native Americans are also more likely to have conditions like diabetes and heart disease, which make the virus more deadly.
Navajo Nation officials told the Washington Post they believe one of the reasons the outbreak has been so prevalent is because the Navajo did not promptly receive the funds and other support the federal government promised them. $600 million of federal funds were sent to the Navajo Nation on May 6, 10 days after it was promised and over a month after the coronavirus relief package was signed into law.
“If we’d gotten [federal funds] a month ago, we would have made sure we had the rapid testing we’ve been hearing about,” Navajo vice president Myron Lizer told the paper. “I have to believe that we could have saved more lives if we had the money earlier.”
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) also announced this week that a small team of its medical personnel has been assisting the Navajo Nation in treating the epidemic. In a statement to Supermajority News, Senior Communications Officer Nico D’Auterive explained that MSF currently has a team working with Native American communities in the Navajo Nation and New Mexico, and they expect to work there until at least June.
“We are working closely with local officials, health care providers and organizations that are directly addressing the needs of groups particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to lack of resources to protect themselves and their families,” said D’Auterive, adding that the medical team was specifically concentrating on technical guidance to facilities and infection prevention and control. “As we better understand the nuances of community transmission, we are collaborating with other actors on how to expand contact tracing to help stifle the spread of the virus,” D’Auterive added.