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Navajo Nation battling new COVID-19 surge

Dr. Puthiery Va with the Chinle Comprehensive Healthcare Facility speaks about rising COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation during a video update on Facebook Wednesday.

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

As the country grapples with a third wave of COVID-19 infections, the Navajo Nation is dealing with its second surge of the virus, health officials said Wednesday.

The reservation is experiencing “extensive community spread,” said Puthiery Va, a doctor with the Indian Health Service’s Chinle Comprehensive Healthcare Facility.

“Not only are we seeing a rise in cases, we’re seeing it happening fast,” Va said during a video update.

On Sunday, the Navajo Nation reported 76 new virus cases, the highest single-day total since mid-July. The height of the first wave of the pandemic in May on the Navajo Nation saw more than 150 new cases each day.

There have been 11,386 total cases as of Tuesday night, with 7,504 recoveries. There have been 575 deaths from the disease.

The test positivity rate on the reservation is also rising. Eight percent of COVID-19 tests are coming back positive on the Navajo Nation this week, up from 6% last week.

The states surrounding the Navajo Nation are also experiencing record case numbers and rising hospitalizations.

As intensive care units fill up in neighboring states, Navajo health care workers are concerned about how that could strain resources in their own facilities. About 55% of ICU beds on the Navajo Nation are occupied.

“We rely heavily on transferring our sickest patients out to other hospitals in Arizona and New Mexico,” Va said.

The reservation currently has 221 contact tracers, Va said. About five contact tracers are needed to investigate each new virus case.

Contact tracing efforts on the Navajo Nation have linked recent virus clusters to family gatherings with multiple households, including birthday parties and funerals.

“Superspreading is driven by crowding, prolonged contact and poor ventilation,” Va said. “You add someone who’s highly infectious, and suddenly you have all the conditions to increase the risk of superspreading.”

The Navajo Nation has another 56-hour lockdown this weekend. All businesses will be closed. Masks are mandatory on the reservation.

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