Navajo Nation Office of President and Vice President: COVID-19 Town Hall - June 23, 2020

'Wear your mask, do your part': Tribal citizens in New Mexico bear brunt of coronavirus

Tribal citizens continue to feel disproportionate effects of the coronavirus in New Mexico, more than three months into a pandemic that continues to spread throughout Indian Country.

According to the New Mexico Department of Health, Native Americans account for 52 percent of COVID-19 cases as of June 25. That's the highest proportion of any racial or ethnic group in the state.

The number is even more startling given that Native Americans account for just 9.6 percent of the overall population in the Land of Enchantment, based on figures U.S. Census Bureau. No other racial or ethnic group is as over-represented as citizens of the Apache, Navajo and Pueblo tribal nations that have resided there for generations.

And what's even more remarkable is that the disproportionate rate has remained so high for so long. Throughout the pandemic, Native Americans have only seen cases continue to mount in their communities, leading to repeated warnings from tribal leaders and public health officials.

"Staying home or staying at an isolation site is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick," President Jonathan Nez of the Navajo Nation said on Thursday, highlighting some of the ways in which COVID-19 can be stopped. "We cannot let our guard down against this modern day monster we call the coronavirus,"

But close-knit tribal communities face unique hurdles as they work day and night to protect their people. Many reservations are food deserts, requiring residents to travel to nearby cities for daily needs, even though it brings them into contact with larger numbers of people who could be carrying the virus.

Others lack adequate infrastructure, making it more difficult to follow the oft-repeated mantra of washing one's hands. Housing conditions, whether outdated or overcrowded, also contribute to community spread.

"With this outbreak, we should come together, pray for one another, and most of all, stay home, wear your mask and social distance," Governor Val Panteah of the Pueblo of Zuni, located in the western part of the state, said on social media earlier this week, declaring it a "truly a sad day" amid another increase in COVID-19 cases.

Update for Thursday June 25, 2020.

Posted by Pueblo Of Zuni Covid-19 Information on Thursday, June 25, 2020

As of Thursday, the tribe has had 292 of its citizens test positive for the disease caused by the coronavirus. Only about a third of them have recovered, according to the data.

What's more, more than a dozen people have succumbed COVID-19 at Zuni since early April. The 12th and 13th deaths were announced on Wednesday.

"Our hearts go out to the family and everyone who is impacted by the tragic loss of a tribal member," Panteah said that day. By the end of the week, the tribe was reinstated a curfew on the reservation.

The Navajo Nation and the Pueblo of Zuni are located in a part of the state that's been hardest hit by the coronavirus. Of the 11,192 cases, nearly half of them -- a total of 5,483 -- are located in two counties on and near the reservations.

McKinley County is home to the coronavirus hotspot of Gallup, a well-known border town near both Navajo and Zuni. According to the New Mexico Department of Heath, 3,215 cases have been diagnosed there. Native Americans represent 76.7 percent of the population in the county, U.S. Census figures show.

San Juan County, which is home to Farmington, a well-known border town near Navajo, has 2,268 COVID-19 cases as of June 25. Native Americans represent 39.6 percent of the population there, according to the U.S. Census.

SAN JUAN CHAPTER FOOD DISTRIBUTION 06.17.20

Posted by Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer on Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Elsewhere, some tribal communities have been hard hit as well. According to the state, the zip code that serves the Pueblo of Zia has seen 113 cases through June 25. That represents 12 percent of the population, going by U.S. Census data.

But other tribes are reporting progress. Governor Wilfred Herrera of the Pueblo of Laguna this week announced a lifting of a stay-at-home order because he said residents have been able to prevent the spread of the coronavirus on the reservation.

"I commend you all for staying strong for your sacrifices and the strong effort everyone has put forth as we work together to get through this pandemic," Herrera said in a video message on Wednesday. The tribe reported nine COVID-19 cases earlier this month.

Pueblo of Laguna: Governor Herrera Update - June 24, 2020

Besides the 19 Pueblo tribes and parts of the Navajo Nation, New Mexico is home to the Jicarilla Apache Nation and the Mescalero Apache Tribe. Additionally, the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, whose ancestors were removed and held as prisoners of war by the U.S. government, has homelands in the state.

The Mescalero Apache Tribe has seen 13 COVID-19 cases among its citizens, President Gabe Aguilar said in a June 17 update. Last month, his own daughter contracted the disease.

"I'm happy to announce: Every one of those people that were positive," Aguilar said in the video, "are all COVID free."

"We've all done our part," Aguilar said. "We have not had a case in 10, 11 days. We are doing an amazing job."

"Wear your mask, do your part," added Aguilar, who wore a protective covering in the update.

President Gabe Aguilar gives Video Update #14 of COVID-19 tribal efforts and other tribal updates. JUNE 17, 2020

Posted by Mescalero Apache Tribe on Wednesday, June 17, 2020

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