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Navajo Nation passes NYC for COVID-19 rate

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Medical personnel conduct drive-thru Covid_19 testing earlier at the Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services in Gallup, New Mexico. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Navajo Nation has a higher rate of reported COVID-19 cases than New York City, according to an analysis of state and local data sources.

In fact, it appears to have the highest rates in the country, surpassing previous hot spots New York state and New Jersey.

According to the Navajo Department of Health, the reservation had 4,253 cases of the illness caused by coronavirus as of Wednesday night. This means it has a rate of 2,449 cases per 100,000 based on 2010 census data that reported 173,667 people living on the reservation, which spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. One hundred forty-six people have died and at least 1,026 have recovered.

New York City – which is home to more than half of its state’s cases – has a slightly lower rate of COVID-19 than the Navajo Nation, according to an analysis of data provided by the city’s Health Department. The city has 192,374 confirmed cases, or a rate of 2,290 per 100,000 residents.

By contrast, New York state has 356,179 cases for a rate of 1,822.6 per 100,000 residents, according to data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New Jersey has 149,013 cases, for a rate of 1,672.7 per 100,000.

In a virtual town hall Tuesday, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez pushed back by pointing out that the Navajo Nation is testing mass amounts of people at a time, which means they’re finding more positive cases than other entities.

“So, of course, if you test a lot of people you’re going to have positive cases,” he said.

Nez said more than 25,000 tests had been given, including rapid tests that provide preliminary results in minutes and the nasal swab tests, which take longer.

“Let’s also tell people that we are testing aggressively,” Nez said. “This past weekend, I heard Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo say that he has tested a little over 7% of his population in the state of New York. That’s one of the highest of all the 50 states throughout the country. Do you want to know what Navajo’s percentage is? 11.5%. Let that sink in.”

As of Wednesday night, the percentage was even higher, with 13.2% of residents being tested.

He said that, across the country, states are generally testing less than 10% of their population.

“We are No. 1 in terms of testing throughout this country,” Nez said. “That’s because of the help from front-line workers.”

He said that recently, fewer positive cases have been reported each day, which he took as a good sign that the strict stay-at-home orders and curfew are having an effect.

“The past two days we’ve seen a decrease in COVID positives,” Nez said. “It’s because of you, ladies and gentleman, my people. It’s because of you holding people accountable to stay home these numbers are going down.”

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