Coronavirus Takes a Toll on Native Americans


The Navajo Nation, the largest reservation in the United States, has been hit hard by COVID-19 with a death toll that is higher than many states combined. Navajo Nation suffered its first case of COVID-19 in March, and now has more than 5,250 positive cases and more than 240 deaths.

The per capita infection rate among these native Americans is ten times higher than that of its neighboring state of Arizona. It is even surpassing New York and New Jersey for the highest infection rate. One reason it has been so devastating is because of their rural location and underfunded health care system, and their lack of access to healthcare, they are at a greater threat for poor health results.

Navajo Nation is the largest reservation in the United States. It is an American territory that covers more than 17 million acres of land, or more than 27,000 square miles southwest of Colorado, occupying portions of northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico. It has a population of more than 173,000. It may be a fairly small pocket of people and land, but

Like the rest of the United States, Navajo Nation went on lockdown and closed essential businesses. Following this, there was an Emergency Order mandating the use of masks in public and curfews put into place. On May 15, the Navajo Health Command Operation Center implemented the Unified Command Group to respond to COVID-19 efforts on the Navajo Nation. At that time, there were already more than 20 deaths.

The virus may not be discriminatory, but access to care and funding is. Being a native American does not put you genetically or biologically at a greater risk than others of contracting the disease. However, once in need of treatment, the disparities in the health care system become deadly.

While the rest of the nation was receiving funds for payroll protection and tax stimulus, native Americans were initially overlooked. Now, the Navajo Nation and ten additional tribes have filed a lawsuit against the United States Secretary of the Treasury in an attempt to gain federal funding for pandemic relief. The Indian Health Service has brought in a mobile critical care team to treat infected patients. They have also increased access to tele-health services.

Another aspect of the toll COVID-19 has taken on the Navajo Nation is that it is killing their elderly along with a history of traditions. In Navajo culture, talking about death is taboo. But, lately death is happening every day. The Navajo medicine men were already dwindling. Now, they fear the traditions may die as well.