Updates related to COVID-19 and its effects on Albuquerque and the rest of NM.
Navajo Nation COVID-19 cases reach 1,282
The Navajo Nation is reporting a total of 1,282 COVID-19 cases on the reservation, an increase in 76 cases from Tuesday’s report. The current numbers do not include border town cases that were previously being reported by the Navajo Epidemiology Center, which explains why the case totals have fluctuated in recent days. The agencies reported a total of 5,549 negative tests.
There was one additional COVID-19 death reported Wednesday, bringing the disease’s death toll on the reservation to 49. The Navajo Department of Health reports that 32 men and 17 women have died from the disease, with an average age of 65.
Latest data from the New Mexico Department of Health shows Native Americans make up 43.98% of the state’s COVID-19 cases. Native Americans represent about 11% of New Mexico’s population. New Mexico health officials point to extensive testing in tribal communities as one reason for the high percentages. Native Americans represent 14% of Arizona’s COVID-19 cases, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. In Arizona, Native Americans make up about 5% of the population.
On Wednesday, Swire Coca Cola and the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs delivered 30,000 liters of bottled water to the Navajo Nation. President Jonathan Nez, who is no longer in self-isolation following exposure to a COVID-19-positive individual, oversaw arrival of the water shipments in the Navajo capital of Window Rock, Arizona. A news release said the bottled water will be distributed to health care workers, first responders and citizens in need.
Last week, Durango Coca Cola delivered 13,000 liters of bottled water to the Navajo community of Sheep Springs, New Mexico.
The main Navajo Health Command Operations Center number is (928) 871-7014.
— Theresa Davis
Navajo Nation sues U.S. Treasury over COVID-19 funding
The Navajo Nation has joined 10 other tribal governments in filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury over the distribution of federal COVID-19 emergency dollars, the Navajo Nation Office of the President announced in a news release Wednesday. The initial lawsuit was filed by six tribes last week in U.S. District Court.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, includes $8 billion in emergency funds for tribal governments to address the COVID-19 pandemic. As of now, more than 200 Alaska Native Corporations are eligible for that funding.
Tribes say in the lawsuit that the for-profit corporations are run by boards, often with non-Native shareholders, and should not qualify as tribal governments eligible for that portion of coronavirus aid dollars.
“While the Secretary has not yet announced a formula to disburse the funds, including the Alaska Native Corporations in the calculation will reduce the funds available for tribal governments,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement. “The impact on the Navajo Nation will be significant because of the Nation’s size, population, and the already disparate impact of COVID-19 on the Nation.”
In an April 14 letter to the Treasury and Interior Departments, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said the decision to allocate funds to the corporations contradicts the legislation’s intent to help tribal governments continue essential services and prevent further spread of the virus.
“Non-governmental Tribal entities may well warrant relief under other CARES Act programs, but this funding in this title was intended for Tribal governments and should not be diverted,” wrote Udall, who is the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
For several weeks, President Nez has voiced concerns about the “slow pace” of federal funds and supplies coming to the Navajo Nation.
In the release, Navajo Nation Attorney General Doreen McPaul said the tribal government is “fighting for dollars to save lives.”
There are currently more than 1,200 COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation, with 48 deaths from the disease.
— Theresa Davis
With ‘encouraging news,’ NM looks ahead to next phase in virus response
New Mexico has “flattened the curve” and is on track to avoid a shortage of hospital beds as it confronts the coronavirus pandemic, state officials said Wednesday.
They said the trend is encouraging but social distancing must be maintained to ensure the state stays on track.
“I want folks to be really clear,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said. “We’re not out of this fight yet.”
For the first time, state officials also revealed some criteria that they said will be used to determine when it’s safe to relax New Mexico’s stay-at-home instruction.
— Dan Boyd, Dan McKay
Top UNM doctor says antibody testing will soon be ready
Tests to determine if people have had the coronavirus and are now immune should be up and running in New Mexico in a week or so, said Dr. Richard Larson, the executive vice chancellor of the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.
Currently, the testing available in the state determines whether people currently have COVID-19. But it is believed that most people who get the coronavirus never know it because they don’t show symptoms, Larson said.
Testing a person for antibodies of the virus was one of several topics Larson discussed during a virtual Albuquerque Economic Forum on Wednesday morning.
Larson predicted that type of testing will show that the virus is more widespread than current health department statistics indicate. He said studies in other parts of the country are showing that many more people have antibodies to the virus compared to those who were tested after developing symptoms.
“I think we’re going to have a few hundred thousand people, if that holds up, who are immune in New Mexico,” he said.
Larson said TriCore Reference Laboratories is working to get antibody testing validated and it could be up and running in seven to 10 days. Lab officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Such a test could prove greatly beneficial to hospitals if, Larson said, officials knew which of its workers were immune to the virus and could then care for patients. He cautioned against allowing the “worried well” to be given immediate access to the tests.
He also predicted that it won’t be a magic bullet for lifting stay-at-home instructions and opening up the economy.
“I think you can’t rely on it,” Larson said. “It will be useful but it’s not going to be something where you are going to stay, ‘Just the people who get a positive test go back (to work) and then those who don’t, don’t.’”
— Ryan Boetel
Navajo Nation extends state of emergency
The Navajo Nation has extended its state of emergency through mid-May as COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the community.
An executive order issued by Navajo Nation president Jonathan Nez on Tuesday states that the government had previously restricted or cancelled all off-reservation travel and closed government offices, however the virus continued to spread.
Therefore the state of emergency and the closures will be extended from April 27 until at least May 17.
“The closure of Navajo Nation government offices may be extended beyond May 17, 2020 on the recommendation of the Navajo Health Command Operations Center, the Navajo Department of Emergency Management Operation Center, and the Navajo Epidemiology Center,” the order states.
The order also instructs Navajo Nation residents to continue complying with a curfew between the hours of 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. and weekends and limit their movements to essential outings only.
“The provisions of this order shall be implemented consistent with the laws of the Navajo Nation and in a manner that advances the highest welfare of the People,” the order states.
The Navajo Nation has reported 1,206 COVID-19 cases and 48 deaths due to COVID-19. Navajo Health Command Operation officials have projected that the peak number of cases will occur in early May or mid-May.
— Elise Kaplan
Number of daily new cases levels off in NM
After steadily increasing for more than a month, the number of confirmed new coronavirus cases announced daily across New Mexico has leveled off over the past week or so, based on a rolling average of new infections.
And in some counties, including Bernalillo County, the number of new cases has dropped from earlier this month.
But state officials say it’s too early to say whether that means the COVID-19 outbreak might be plateauing – and insist social distancing measures can’t be relaxed yet.
“The key fact here is that a flatter curve doesn’t mean the state or any specific county is out of the woods – it means what people are doing is working and must keep it up,” state Human Services Department spokeswoman Jodi McGinnis-Porter told the Journal.
— Dan Boyd
Navajo Nation leaders connect with New York Gov. Cuomo
The Navajo Health Command Operations Center reported 63 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday and three additional COVID-19 deaths. There are now 1,206 COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation and 48 deaths.
A news release from the Navajo Nation Office of the President said the total cases include 569 men and 637 women, and the average age of COVID-19 patients on the Navajo Nation is 48 years old. The release said the average age of Navajo who have died from COVID-19 is 65 years old.
In a virtual townhall update Tuesday, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer said that although “the curve seems to be flattening,” the reservation would continue to enforce stay-at-home orders, curfews and business restrictions. The Navajo Nation will have another 57-hour weekend curfew starting Friday night.
Healthcare professionals with the Navajo Health Command Operations Center have projected that the peak of COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation will be in early May or mid-May.
President Nez said he had spoken with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo about sending supplies from New York to the Navajo Nation.
“They have a lot of supplies and resources there, and they know firsthand what to do,” Nez said. “We’re going to listen to what they’ve done there, and we’re working on trying to get some needed supplies.”
A high school gymnasium in Gallup has been converted into an alternative care site to treat patients if nearby healthcare facilities become overwhelmed. The Navajo Nation is evaluating more alternative care sites in Shiprock and Chinle, Arizona.
Fifteen employees of the Navajo Police Department have tested positive for COVID-19, Nez said, including six officers, four sergeants, three dispatchers and two civilian personnel.
— Theresa Davis