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Navajo Area Indian Health Service hospitals are starting to treat COVID-19 patients with the antiviral drug remdesivir that has shown promise in reducing recovery time for some patients, IHS officials said during a call with reporters this week.
Federal regulators gave the drug an emergency use authorization to be administered to COVID-19 patients in areas of the country hit hardest by the pandemic.
“This week, we began distributing the drug to hospitals based on request and current burden of patients,” said Michael Toedt, chief medical officer for IHS. “IHS received 800 vials and we expect 3,200 more this week.”
Loretta Christensen, chief medical officer for the Navajo Area IHS, said the virus peak for the area is now predicted to be in the last two weeks of May. The Navajo Area accounts for nearly 60% of all COVID-19 cases in IHS areas across the country, the agency’s data dashboard shows.
“The ascent of the curve has definitely flattened,” she said. “We have tripled the amount of patients transferred to tertiary centers … that has allowed us to manage our increased inpatient volumes. I still believe that our social distancing is working.”
The Navajo Nation has more than 3,600 COVID-19 cases and 127 deaths. McKinley County in New Mexico, which overlaps with the reservation, reports more than 1,700 cases and 63 deaths.
Gallup Indian Medical Center continues to send critical COVID-19 patients to Albuquerque and Flagstaff.
“We’ve been fortunate that a lot of federal agencies that we work with have been able to send us staff,” Christensen said. “Our respiratory emergency department required a lot more staff. They have worked extremely hard to protect other patients.”
Multi-generational housing in the region’s tribal communities often makes it difficult for low-level COVID-19 patients to self-isolate away from their families.
Christensen said FEMA now has “fully functional isolation tents” available, with supplies for reservation residents to quarantine without leaving their own property.
The agencies will now work to inform residents on the Navajo Nation and other tribal communities of that resource.