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Navajo Nation confirms new virus variant

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Navajo Nation epidemiologists have confirmed a case of the B.1.429 COVID-19 variant on the reservation in the Chinle, Arizona, area.

The virus strain was first discovered in California and has become prevalent in new COVID-19 infections in Arizona and Nevada.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has listed the mutation as a “variant of concern.”

“We know this is capable of spreading rapidly and efficiently,” said Dr. Laura Hammitt, infectious disease programs director at the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health. “Current COVID-19 vaccines are expected to greatly reduce the chances of severe disease.”

Navajo health officials said the patient has recovered. No contacts have contracted the virus.

Last week, the reservation confirmed a case of the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom.

The patient who tested positive had previously received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Amanda Burrage, a Tuba City physician and member of the Navajo COVID-19 epidemiology team, said the reservation has about 19 contact tracers available for every new virus case.

Shandiin Herrera with the Navajo Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund distributes masks, hand sanitizer and wipes at a grocery store in Kayenta, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation. (Courtesy of Navajo Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund)

“We’re continuing to work on getting as many people vaccinated as possible to help reduce the (virus) spread and reduce the chance of more variants in our area,” Burrage said.

About 137,000 people in the Navajo Nation have received at least one vaccine dose, equaling 70% of the eligible population of 16 years or older.

More than 95,000 people are fully vaccinated.

Most Navajo businesses are limited to 25% capacity. Navajo casinos remain closed to nonresidents.

The Navajo Department of Health reported six new virus cases on Monday and no deaths.

A total of 30,178 reservation residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 1,258 people have died from the disease.

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