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COVID-19 deaths reach 100 for Navajo Nation

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez talks to CNN’s John King on May 11, 2020. (CNN)

The Navajo Nation reported that the number of its citizens who have died from COVID-19 reached 100 as of Sunday.

The grim figure comes as the Navajo Nation, whose sprawling 17 million acres includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, endures some of the highest rates of infection per capita in the country. Its 3,122 confirmed cases represent nearly 18 cases per 1,000 people. Navajo’s population is 175,000; more than 18,000 have been tested.

The rate in which the virus has hit Native Americans in Arizona and New Mexico is drastically disproportionate compared to their population in those states. Natives account for about five percent of Arizona’s overall population, but, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services, they have 18% of the state’s deaths from COVID-19. The numbers are jaw-dropping in New Mexico, too, where Natives account for 11 percent of the population, however, they comprise 57 percent of the infections, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.

Navajo Nation president Jonathan Nez told CNN on Monday that infrastructure hasn’t helped in the ordeal and suggested the federal government reevaluate the needs of tribal communities.

“We’ve been aggressively testing our citizens here on the Navajo Nation, but the virus just spreads like wildfire,” he told John King in a live interview. “We have 30-plus percent of our Navajo citizens here on Navajo don’t have running water. We have multiple generations of family members living under one roof as well.”

Nez also said the health system in the country needs improvement.

“I think this pandemic has shed light on the inadequacy of our public health system throughout this country, but more so here on the tribal communities,” he said.

President Trump announced last week during a meeting in Phoenix with tribal leaders that the Navajo Nation would receive $600 million through the CARES Act to battle COVID-19.

Also, according to the White House, the Trump administration has provided 50 ventilators to the Navajo Nation and the federal government has deployed two disaster medical assistance teams and built three 50-bed federal  medical stations.

Help is also coming from celebrities. Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and her wife Portia De Rossi donated about 240 protective medical face shields to the Navajo Nation and other tribes through De Rossi’s art company.  

Also on the relief front, Go Fund Me pages have been sprouting up. Navajo Nation started a COVID-19 relief fund that has raised more than $230,000. To donate, click here.

Another relief fund has raised more than $3.5 million for Navajo and Hopi families. The roots to this one date to the 1800s when the Choctaw donated money to the Irish to help during Ireland’s Potato Famine. As a way to say thanks in a modern-era fashion, the Irish fund organizers reciprocated the gesture by setting up a Go Fund Me page that has  far surpassed its initial goal of $2 million. For more information, click here.

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