COVID-19 cases jump to 39 on Navajo Nation as of March 24
Researchers estimate undetected COVID-19 cases are “11 times more than has been officially reported"
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — The number of positive COVID-19 cases in the Navajo Nation grew from two on TMarch 17 to 39 on March 24, according to the Navajo Nation Department of Health.
Around the world the number of active cases continued to expand, according to Johns Hopkins University. The count now stands at 329,299 cases, 14,376 deaths and 95,656 people who have recovered as of March 21.
There are 15,219 cases in the U.S. reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But those numbers have not been updated since March 20 and it’s most certainly significantly higher, especially when factoring in unreported cases. Researchers estimate that the undetected cases are “11 times more than has been officially reported.”
In the Navajo Nation, 25 of the cases are in Arizona, and 18 from the Kayenta service unit, four are from the Chinle service unit, and three are from the Tuba City service unit. The last one is from the Crownpoint service unit in New Mexico.
There are “no confirmed deaths related to COVID-19 for residents of the Navajo Nation” as of March 21, according to a news release. On March 20, Navajo Area Indian Health Service Public Affairs Liaison Jenny Notah told Indian Country Today that “IHS has received no reports of deaths of an IHS patient in the Navajo Area due to COVID-19.”
However, the Navajo Times reported that a Chilchinbeto Church of the Nazarene Zone Rally that took place on March 7 was attended by individuals or their family members who later tested positive for COVID-19.
“Before they could be tested, two people — one in LeChee, Arizona and one in Chilchinbeto — died of respiratory symptoms, according to local sources. The LeChee victim had attended the rally; it is uncertain whether the Chilchinbeto victim did,” wrote reporter Krista Allen.
There were more people at the rally from six chapters, or community centers, from the western region of the Navajo Nation.
Indian Health Service and tribal epidemiologist teams continue to investigate the degree of contact of contagious individuals and the subsequent degree of exposure is unknown.
“There are people who are testing negative for COVID-19 and that is good news, but there are still many more tests that the Navajo Department of Health and the Navajo Area IHS are waiting for results and confirmation,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.
Nez continued to emphasize on tribal radio the need for people to stay home.
“Everyone needs to stay home, that’s how we will start to beat this virus. To prevent a massive health crisis, every person must remain home,” he said. “We know some may need food, medicine, or other essential items, but beyond that we shouldn’t have anyone traveling or going out into the public. This includes public gatherings and meetings.”
On March 21, a stay-at-home order was issued by the Navajo Nation requiring all Navajo Nation residents to stay home and isolated. All non-essential businesses were to close, too. The small community of Chilchinbeto, Arizona, where most of the cases came from, had a shelter-in-place order before the current stay-at-home order. Chilchinbeto residents, especially elders, received care packages and resources from first responders like firewood, water and coal.
The Navajo Nation Police Department also set up community checkpoints near the Chilchinbeto region to limit and educate travelers to stay home.
Tribal response in the U.S.
“As we investigate this case and hear more about the other cases in the county we have good reason to believe that there are many more cases in the community,” Dr. Paul Ebbert of the Wind River Family and Community Health Center on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming said in an announcement March 21. The elder is a woman and from the Ethete area. She is stable and receiving medical treatment.
“We are gravely concerned about the health threat that COVID-19 poses to Northern Arapaho members and the larger Wind River Indian Reservation,” said Chairman Lee Spoonhunter of the Northern Arapaho Business Council in a news release. “... Now is the time for the Arapaho people to look out for each other. With our prayers and traditional way of life, and by following common sense health precautions, we will emerge from this challenge stronger than before.”
In Idaho, Chairman Ladd Edmo of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes announced that the tribe does not have any confirmed COVID-19 cases among its tribal citizens.
However, there was a confirmed case near the exterior borders of their reservation and that resulted in a partial tribal government shutdown.
“Full time, part-time, and temporary employees will receive their benefits and salary for two weeks during this time of self-isolation. Further assessments will determine if extensions will be made,” Edmo said.
If the time came of a confirmed case on their reservation, Edmo said they will implement stricter and protective measures to protect the community.
“This would include ‘stay at home’ and regular reassessments of tribal reduced services,” he said.
The casino closed March 21. The chairman said the Fort Hall Business Council and casino management weighed the pros and cons between the public health of the community versus the long-term tribal government services that will be affected in the future.
“The council and casino management carefully weigh the outcomes. Comparison of tribal casinos to Las Vegas casino is difficult because private casino industries are for-profit, versus tribal casinos which go directly to needed governmental services,” Edmo said. “The impact to any revenue will impact Tribal government general fund programs.”
The casino and hotel management team stated it want to keep employees employed as long as possible rather than letting them go.
“They will reassign employees to conduct other tasks, within the management’s ability and limitations from the National Indian Gaming regulations,” Edmo said. “Tribal governmental employees will also be reassigned similarly.”
Across the country casinos have started to notify employees of furloughs. Victor Rocha, publisher of the Penchanga.Net, posted that 92 percent of the country’s casinos are now closed for business. Another story on his site, said the Pechanga tribe was expected to issue furlough notices to employees.
Mark Trahant and The Associated Press contributed to this report
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