Navajo Nation Outpacing New York In Per Capita COVID-19 Cases

The Native American territory, which covers parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, now has America's highest per capita level of COVID-19 cases.
Posted at 5:15 PM, May 20, 2020

The Navajo Nation is scattered throughout remote reservation land in Arizona, neighboring Utah and New Mexico. In geography and character, it's as far removed from New York as most anyone can imagine.

But this Native American territory of 174,000 people has passed New York by recording America's highest per capita rate for the coronavirus. 

The Navajos had suffered more than 140 COVID-19 deaths and had nearly 4,100 cases by May 18. That may not seem like much. Yet the Navajo's 2,300 cases per 100,000 people ranks substantially higher than New York's average of 1,800.

Navajo Nation member Felisita Jones can attest to that. She is one of five people in her family infected by the virus. 

"I could just, uh, uh, uh. But I didn't want to go to the hospital. I didn't want to leave my kids behind because I had so much to do in life with them."

The Navajo Nation is under strict lockdown. But this is not an easy landscape to be confined at home. With few grocery stores,  farmers in Arizona are shipping in fresh produce to tribal members.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez says gas stations are closed. And there's another harsh factor about isolation — many families have no access to water at home.

"30, 40% of our Navajo people do not have running water here on the Navajo Nation. So you get CDC and all these scientists and experts telling everyone to wash their hands with soap and water. Here on the Navajo Nation, you know, our Navajo citizens do not have the luxury of turning on a faucet here, in their homes."

What the Navajo do have is a very rigorous testing regimen. Nez says 11% of tribal members, more than 23,000, have been tested for COVID-19 so far. 

But there's another challenge. Hospitals are hours away from most tribal homes. So the Army Corps of Engineers is building temporary medical facilities. The Navajo are hoping that testing — and sheltering — will keep them from filling up.

Contains footage from CNN.