(KUTV) — Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation, said 20 tribal members have died after contracting COVID-19 — most of them people over age 60. Another 488 people tested positive.
While some states may be at the peak of the COVID-19 crisis, at the Navajo Nation, the peak likely won’t come until mid May, Nez said.
A nighttime curfew is already in place, but for Easter weekend, the tribal leaders will impose a 57-hour curfew that goes from Friday at 8 p.m. to Monday at 5 a.m.
Law-enforcement checkpoints already ensure only essential workers are out during the curfew hours. If people need food, only one person in the household can travel to the grocery store.
So far, at least 3,900 people have been tested for the virus.
But it’s concerning to Nez that test results aren’t available for 48 hours, so numbers are always two days old.
To complicate matters further, Nez said tribes are encountering more red tape when applying for federal grants and other relief funds to help In the battle against the virus. Nez said:
“Tribes were the first citizens of this country, but it just seems like today we are being put down as a priority ... way down on the totem pole."
The Navajo nation spans 27,000 miles In Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. The tribe has 35,000 members. Right now, Nez says the older population is most vulnerable to COVID-19, given that many have other health conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease,
Still, the tribe is not waiting for help to come from the federal government. $4 million in tribal funds are being used to deal with the emergency.
Right now, with the help of the Army Corps of Engineers, tribal leaders are erecting tents that will likely become storage facilities for food and other emergency supplies.
They are also scouting other public buildings to convert into temporary medical facilities in the event the tribal hospitals can’t keep up with COVID-19 patients. The temporary facilities can be used to separate people who are infected from those who aren’t.
In a community where multiple generations of one family live under the same roof, Nez said it is important to make sure that any family members who are healthy are separated from those who have the virus.
Nez said the tribe will use its own funds now, but will continue to apply for grants and other emergency relief money - even if it’s approved after the peak of the crisis.
“All of the dollars that we are using we are tracking. I am going to be giving the big receipt back to the federal government at the end of this public health emergency."