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Jicarilla Apache Nation is the state’s latest hot spot

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Count Rio Arriba among the New Mexico counties seeing huge and fast increases in COVID-19 cases.

Two large influxes of cases have seen Rio Arriba’s total case count jump by 60% in just five days to a total of 251. The sparsely populated county has more cases per 100,000 residents than Bernalillo, Santa Fe and Lea counties.

“We have an outbreak in Rio Arriba County,” county Health and Human Services Director Lauren Reichelt said Tuesday.

About two-thirds of the county’s cases come from the Jicarilla Apache Nation, a large reservation located in Rio Arriba’s western half and bordering Colorado.

Many tribal reservations and pueblos in New Mexico have seen outbreaks of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. As of Tuesday, Native Americans comprised 40% of the state’s case total, though they make up just 11% of the state’s population.

According to data collected by the Nation, of 4,600 tests, 177 people have tested positive. While its population is around 4,000, Jennifer Muskrat-Velarde, a local resident and former candidate for Nation president, said on Facebook it is unclear if test numbers include non-tribal members who work for the Nation.

She said employees for the Nation have been tested multiple times each.

Muskrat-Velarde also said in a Facebook Live post that, while the Nation has implemented a curfew, it can be difficult for residents to stay at home when important resources are located far away.

“We’re in the middle of an FDA-defined food desert,” she said. “We have to travel to all these hotspots.”

Reichelt said she has held meetings with Española Presbyterian Hospital and the state Department of Health about establishing a pop-up hospital on the Jicarilla Apache Nation, but no plans have been developed yet.

Sixteen tribal members are currently hospitalized and County Manager Tomas Campos said many of them have to make the 90-minute trip to the hospital in Farmington.

Jicarilla Apache President Derrell Paiz did not return requests for comment.

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