UPDATED 5/12, 11:50 a.m. ET: To help the Navajo Nation hit so disproportionately by COVID-19, Doctors Without Borders is adding a U.S. operation to its international presence. Nine professionals (two doctors, three nurses/midwives, two logisticians, a water sanitation specialist and a health promoter with a specialty in community health education) have been dispatched through the end of June.
"There are many situations in which we do not intervene in the United States, but this has a particular risk profile," said Jean Stowell, head of the organization's U.S. COVID-19 Response Team. "Situationally, the Native American communities are at a much higher risk for complications from COVID-19 and also from community spread because they don't have access to the variety of things that make it possible to self-isolate. … You can't expect people to isolate if they have to drive 100 miles to get food and water.
Stowell went on to add that Americans may have trouble comprehending how large the country is and how vastly needs differ from area to area. "You know, urban needs are very different than rural needs. And the needs of the Native American community are challenging because they look so different than the needs elsewhere, so they require a pretty significant coordinated effort.”
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The Navajo Nation has now recorded more COVID-19 cases per capita than any of the 50 U.S. states.
"We've lost 100 lives to this virus and we offer our condolences to all of the families who are grieving and I want you to know that we're working around the clock to fight COVID-19," Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement over the weekend. "We're going to continue to be on the ground in our communities helping families directly with food, water, and other items to help them stay home and avoid the spread of the virus."
Current census data shows that approximately 173,667 people reside in the Navajo Nation, with Sunday's COVID-19 numbers update meaning that there are roughly 1,786 cases per 100,000 people. By comparison, the states with the highest rates—New York and New Jersey—are at 1,751 cases and 1,560 cases per 100,000 people.
Sunday's statement from Navajo Nation president Jonathan Nez also included confirmation of two more recorded deaths, bringing the total to 100.
The Navajo Nation is the biggest American Indian tribe, with its capital located roughly 25 miles from the New Mexico city of Gallup. Per CNN, COVID-19 assistance teams from Doctors Without Borders aim to stay in the region until at least June.
According to the latest update from May 10, the CDC is now reporting more than 1.3 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. with more than 78,000 confirmed deaths.