Covid-19 Live Updates: Navajo Nation Tames the Virus With a Big Vaccine Push

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Dr. Lance Whitehair receiving a Covid-19 vaccine at Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock, N.M., in December. Medical staff at the facility were among the first in the Navajo Nation to be vaccinated.
Credit…Micah Garen/Getty Images

The Navajo Nation, which once had one of the worst coronavirus case rates in the United States, recently reached an extraordinary milestone: zero cases and zero deaths in a 24-hour period.

The nation, which has over 300,000 enrolled members, is averaging about 11 new cases a day, far below its peak of 250 in late November, according to the latest data from the Navajo Department of Health.

And it has vaccinated more of its population than any state, with more than half of its 170,000 residents living on tribal lands fully vaccinated.

But there are some alarming signs. With infections rising again nationally and dangerous variants circulating, U.S. health officials are warning of another surge. And the first confirmed case of the more contagious and possibly more lethal variant first found in Britain has been confirmed on Navajo territory, which stretches across Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The Navajo, the second-largest U.S. tribe, aren’t alone in their struggle against the virus. Indigenous Americans have had Covid-19 death rates nearly twice those of white populations in the United States, amid high rates of comorbidities like diabetes and obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jonathan Nez, the president of the Navajo Nation, said the tribe was able to tame the virus because members had followed strict lockdown orders and a mask mandate, which was imposed nearly a year ago.

“It wasn’t about restricting people’s freedoms when we told people to wear a mask or to stay home. It was looking at the greater good,” Mr. Nez said on the CBS program “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

Vaccination efforts have also been a big success, Mr. Nez said, with about 218,190 shots administered (nearly 90 percent of the doses allocated) and 88,513 people fully vaccinated.

“I think just because of how hard hit the Navajo Nation was, we’ve seen a big increase in participation in taking the vaccine,” Mr. Nez said, adding that officials have been holding town hall meetings to build trust and answer questions about the virus.

Tribal health officials have also credited the nation’s decision to coordinate closely between the federal Indian Health Service, which oversees care for the more than 500 tribes throughout the country, and Navajo health organizations, a much more streamlined operation than the patchwork approach across the country.

Other tribes have also had successful pandemic responses. Reported cases in the Cherokee Nation, the largest U.S. tribe, dropped sharply in mid-March, when Oklahoma stopped reporting daily virus data. The tribe also quickly administered thousands of vaccine shots but is now facing the problem of getting hesitant people…



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