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Navajo Nation ranks as third-highest infected area in country

Tribal governments win lawsuit seeking CARES Act funding
Vehicles line up for COVID-19 testing April 17 outside of the Monument Valley Health Center in Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah. More than 1,000 people were tested over the course of two days. The Navajo Nation, spanning three states, is now the third-highest infected area per capita behind New York and New Jersey.

FARMINGTON – As the number of COVID-19 cases increase on the Navajo Nation, tribal leaders are fighting for federal funding and resources to battle the outbreak.

Wednesday brought an additional 104 new cases and two more deaths on the Navajo Nation, according to the Navajo Department of Health, the Navajo Area Indian Health Services and the Navajo Epidemiology Center. They bring the total number of positive COVID-19 cases to 1,977, with 62 coronavirus-related deaths. There have been 8,239 negative tests results out of 11,404 completed tests.

The Navajo Nation, spanning three states, is now the third-highest infected area per capita behind New York and New Jersey.

“We can caution the public all day long and issue as many public health orders as we want, but ultimately, the choice to stay home or go out into public remains in the hands of each individual,” said Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer.

On Monday, the Navajo Nation and other tribal governments won a lawsuit to secure funding in the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Last week, Navajo Nation tribal leaders joined 10 other tribes in filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Treasury secretary. Congress allocated $8 billion to assist tribal governments battling the virus. But in a news release, tribal officials said the secretary sought to fund more than 230 Alaska Native corporations with the federal dollars.

Unlike the Navajo Nation and tribal governments, Alaska Native corporations are for-profit corporations with shareholders, including non-Indian shareholders. According to the news release, 12 regional Alaska Native corporations generated more than $10.5 billion in revenue in 2018.

On Monday, the U.S. District Court ruled that the $8 billion under the CARES Act should be allocated to federally recognized tribes and not the for-profit Alaska Native corporations.

“Federally-recognized tribes stood together to oppose the actions of the Department of the Treasury in another attempt to undermine the first citizens of this county, but our voices were heard and Indigenous people prevailed today,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. “I’m sure there will be other attempts to direct these funds away from tribes, but we need to remain strong in our positions and continue to ask our congressional delegation to continue fighting alongside us for our fair share of CARES Act funding.”

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and others help to distribute food, water and firewood to more than 30 families, including many elderly, on Tuesday.

In a statement, Lizer acknowledged the ruling did not address everything they had asked for but said, “The congressional intent of these funds is to relieve federally-recognized tribal governments and most importantly, their people.”

To continue battling the virus, Navajo tribal officials announced a third 57-hour curfew will go into effect this weekend from 8 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday. The curfew is in addition to a shelter-in-place order.

The curfews have been enforced by the Navajo Police Department, which issues citations to those found breaking the travel restrictions.

The police department reported April 24 it had 17 confirmed cases of the virus, 11 police officers and six civilian personnel. The department announced it was working to prioritize staff testing for all police districts, and there was a two- to five-day processing time on the tests.

“We knew there was a high probability that this would occur and we made every decision possible to try and mitigate that probability,” Chief Phillip Francisco said.

Here’s a breakdown of the 1,977 confirmed positive cases Wednesday on the Navajo Nation:

Navajo County, Ariz.: 468Apache County, Ariz.: 450Coconino County, Ariz.: 274McKinley County, N.M.: 504San Juan County, N.M.: 202Cibola County, N.M.: 17San Juan County, Utah: 22Socorro County, N.M.: 21Sandoval County, N.M.: 19

lweber@durangoherald.com

Navajo County, Ariz.: 468Apache County, Ariz.: 450Coconino County, Ariz.: 274McKinley County, N.M.: 504San Juan County, N.M.: 202Cibola County, N.M.: 17San Juan County, Utah: 22Socorro County, N.M.: 21Sandoval County, N.M.: 19

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