The Navajo Nation has now the highest COVID-19 infection rate in the US, surpassing New Jersey and New York City, another sign of the virus’ impact on minority communities.
The Nation spans parts of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico has a reported population of 173,667 based on the 2010 census. With 4,002 cases, the Native American territory has 2,304.41 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 people.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, New Jersey now has a rate of 1,668 cases per 100,000, and New York has a rate of 1,806 cases per 100,000.
Navajo has one of the strictest stay-at-home orders in the US, mandating that residents not leave their homes unless there is an underlying emergency or if they are essential workers. Workers from the frontline must have documentation on company letterhead with a verifiable contact number for a manager in order to go.
During the last few months, Navajo has been on stern weekend lockdowns to prevent people from risking the spread of infection but case numbers have continued to rise.
Navajo Nation’s President, Jonathan Nez said in a CNN report that there has been a huge spike in cases among the population, resulting in 140 deaths for the entire nation as of this weekend.
Nez said that part of the reason for the spike is increased testing capacity. 11% of the population of the Navajo Nation (more than 23,791 members) has been tested for the virus.
Another factor for the high number of cases is that multiple generations live under the same roof, Nez added. “When one person gets COVID, goes home, they turn to infect the rest of the family.”
In addition, 30% to 40% of Navajo residents do not have running water. That prevents everyone from being able to wash their hands as often as recommended.
Another challenge for Navajo is that the nation is a “food desert,” meaning more people are at the few grocery stores, convenience stores, and gas stations to purchase food.
“When we run out of food or supplies we have to go to the stores and there is a lot of people there and I believe…the spread is happening there as well as at home,” Nez said.
In a press release released on Saturday, Nez urged residents to continue to stay in lockdown as much as possible and maintain good hygiene practices.
“With every passing day, we are a day closer to beating COVID-19.Whether we realize it or not we are winning the war on this virus,” Nez said in the press release.
“We have to stay the course when it comes to staying home as much as possible, wearing masks in public, washing our hands often, and taking every precaution to ensure our health and safety especially for our elders and children.”
According to the press release, experts projected cases would peak in the Navajo population in mid-May.