Story at a glance
- The Native American population has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, especially the Navajo Nation.
- In response, the reservation has issued strict travel restrictions and even curfews.
- After high infection rates, recent data suggests that the curve has begun to flatten.
As the Navajo Nation emerges from yet another 54-hour lockdown this weekend, the Navajo Department of Health reported 13 new cases of COVID-19 and five additional deaths.
With more than 9,000 positive cases of COVID-19, the reservation reported the highest coronavirus infection rate per capita in the country in May, but is now showing signs of flattening the curve. An estimated 6,585 individuals have recovered from COVID-19, according to local reports, and the number of new cases reported in one day has been steadily declining.
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The reservation received $714 million in federal CARES Act funding but has been told to use it by Dec. 30 or lose it.
“There are a lot of needs. And $714 million is just a small amount. Don't get me wrong, we're grateful for the aid,” President of Navajo Nation Jonathan Nez told Today’s Cynthia McFadden in an interview airing on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt on August 3. “We have no cure. There's no vaccine. So how do we prepare for the future? If we can get running water to our citizens, it will help push COVID-19 off our nation and any future virus.”
The Navajo Nation's water shortage, exacerbated by recent drought, has made common disease prevention measures difficult for indigenous residents who have sought out their own solutions. McFadden asked Nez whether he thinks the U.S. federal government "has the best interest of indigenous people at heart."
“The record now shows no, but I am hopeful. I think with the U.S. citizens out there realizing again 30 percent to 40 percent of the Navajo people don't have running water, that's unacceptable,” he told Today.
After a spike in cases in Navajo Nation and neighboring Arizona last month, the reservation doubled down on their lockdown, establishing a nightly curfew in addition to weekend shutdowns and prohibiting off-reservation travel. Much of the Navajo population is at high risk of infection, with high rates of diabetes and asthma among indigenous communities in the United States.
“Native Americans have the highest rates of hospitalization of [COVID-19] of any racial group in the United States,” Laura Hammitt, who specializes in infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, told Today. “This isn't a matter of race but a matter of institutional racism that has made people at higher susceptibility for infectious diseases and kept them at higher susceptibility for many years.”
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