As Coronavirus Cases Rise, Navajo Nation Tries To Get Ahead Of Pandemic The Navajo Nation has seen a significant spike in coronavirus cases. Tribal leaders say they desperately need more supplies, but the biggest problem may be the reservation's lack of running water.

As Coronavirus Cases Rise, Navajo Nation Tries To Get Ahead Of Pandemic

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The number of coronavirus cases on the Navajo Nation is multiplying rapidly. As of today, there over 200 people infected with the virus, eight confirmed deaths. The CDC says that Native Americans are some of the most vulnerable to the coronavirus because of economic, geographic and health conditions. From member station KJZZ, Laurel Morales reports.

LAUREL MORALES, BYLINE: A good part of Percy Deal's day is spent hauling water for his family and livestock. So when he heard on the radio how often and for how long he was supposed to wash his hands to avoid the spread of the coronavirus, he was overwhelmed.

PERCY DEAL: I mean, that's, like, a gallon and half or so. For me, I'm using the same water at least three or four times. I use the same water for cooking. I use the same water for cleaning up. So I can't be washing my hands that many times.

MORALES: Forty percent of the Navajo Nation doesn't have running water or indoor plumbing. Deal lives on Black Mesa in northeast Arizona next to a coal mine that shut down late last year.

DEAL: Peabody Mine took all our water. Peabody closed, and then this virus comes along. It's one thing after another.

MORALES: And mining did more than just drain the tribe's aquifer. Decades of uranium extraction have left generations of Navajos with major health problems. Adrian Lerma says these mines created conditions like autoimmune disorders that have left this community vulnerable to the coronavirus.

ADRIAN LERMA: There are people that do have compromised immune systems because of this contamination that's really affected the land, the water, the air, the people.

MORALES: Lerma is delivering food, water, wood, and medicinal herbs to the elders in her community who are on lockdown. But she says the food won't last long. About 1 in 10 Navajos don't have electricity.

LERMA: And so that means there's people that don't have refrigeration systems in their homes. They can't store food. And so that puts them at a great disadvantage when it comes to stocking up on supplies they need.

MORALES: The Navajo Nation also lacks enough health care workers, hospital beds and other equipment needed to address the crisis. Under normal circumstances, there are about 400 hospital beds for 170,000 people. Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty says the Indian Health Service was lacking resources before the virus.

AMBER KANAZBAH CROTTY: And so now as this pandemic moves forward across the world - but on Navajo Nation, we're also seeing those gaps in the immediate response.

MORALES: In 2009, American Indians and Alaska Natives died from H1N1 flu at four times the rates of all other racial and ethnic groups combined.

But Navajo President Jonathan Nez has tried to get out in front of this pandemic. He ordered a curfew. He closed casinos. And he's put a stop to gatherings of more than five people.

Nez told a Facebook Live event he's fed up with those who are not taking this seriously.

JONATHAN NEZ: Some of our people might not know that they have the virus. Don't be selfish. Think of your grandmas. Think of those people that have health conditions because those are the vulnerable population.

MORALES: With public officials raising the alarm, parents and kids are under a lot of stress. For families like Adrian Lerma's, she, her husband and seven kids have been avoiding social media lately. Instead, they're returning to their traditions of telling stories - stories of survival and resilience.

LERMA: It lets them know that these battles have been fought before in the past and that we can fight them again today.

MORALES: Lerma says arming them with that knowledge makes her kids feel confident that they can get through this, too. For NPR News, I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.

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