More than 18 months into the pandemic, the Navajo Nation was once the territory in the United States hit hardest from Covid, is now one of the safest. As early as March 2020, clan members gathered for a social gathering and then returned to their homes in various regions across the reserve – many of them being multi-generational. According to its president Jonathan Nez, it allowed the virus to take advantage of the close-knit Navajo community.
“At the time we thought we could stop it,” Nez said. “When we brought this virus back indoors, it just spread and took a toll on us. We had to mobilize and a lot of that went on social media, on the radio, letting people know that the safest place is at home.”
The solution, Nez said, was for the community to prioritize collective responsibility in their ongoing vaccination efforts. “While the rest of the country said no to masks, no to staying home and saying you’re taking away my freedoms, here on Navajo it wasn’t about us individually,” he said. “It was about protecting our families, our communities and our nation.”
The Navajo Nation boasts a vaccination rate of 72 percent among eligible residents — a benchmark higher than the statewide rate of almost 62 percent. The government has necessary Vaccination for all of its employees since late September, and Nez is considering the need for an indoor vaccination order due to the emergence of the Omicron variant.
“When we were hit hard last year, we had a lot of media attention — national and international media attention — like, ‘Poor, poor Navajos. They could be wiped out,'” he said. “But once we started doing good work, they disappeared. They don’t want to hear from a community or region that’s really pushing back on this virus because it’s going against some of the policies out there.”
According to tribal data, the Navajo Nation has reported over 39,000 cases since the pandemic began. In May 2020, the area had 2,304.41 cases per 100,000 people – the highest rate of infection in the United States.
The Indian Navajo Health Service, which is responsible for the primary clinics and hospitals for the population, serves around 2.2 million members of the tribal community and was already suffering from funding and supply shortages before the pandemic. dr Navajo Area IHS acting chief medical officer Kevin Gaines said the reservation is now ahead of his third wave of Covid cases, leaving emergency rooms at full capacity for hospital and intensive care beds. “The staff are doing their best and doing a great job of persevering and providing quality care to our patients who come at this time.”