Why the Navajo Nation has a higher coronavirus infection rate than New York City

Navajo Nation coronavirus rates
Photo via Sparrow at home/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Surpassing New York, the Navajo Nation has the highest per-capita COVID-19 infection rate in the United States, according to CNN

As of May 18, the Native American territory had 4,002 COVID-19 cases, which is 2,304.1 cases per 100,000 people and a 2.3% penetration rate. In comparison, New York had a rate of 1,806 cases per 100,000 and a 1.8% penetration rate, according to data from Johns Hopkins University

With 142 Covid-19 related deaths, the Navajo Nation has had more coronavirus fatalities than 13 states, according to Forbes

The Navajo Nation covers more than 17.5 million acres and spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. In 2010, the U.S. Census reported the Navajo Nation boasted a population of 173,667.   

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez told CNN on May 17 that the nation has seen a spike in cases—partially due to an increase in testing. According to Nez, more than 23,000 members—or 11% of the Navajo Nation population—have been tested for the virus.  

But there are other factors, too, Nez said in the interview. He attributed the spread of COVID-19 to the fact that multiple generations tend to live in the same home. 

Additionally, residents can’t wash their hands as often as recommended because 30-40% of residents do not have running water. 

On top of that, the Navajo Nation is a food desert. 

“When we run out of food or supplies, we have to go to the stores, and there is a lot of people there, and I believe…the spread is happening there as well as at home,” Nez said.

In response, the Navajo Department of Health issued a 56-hour lockdown for the nation from 8pm on May 22 until 5am on May 25. The strict lockdown asks residents to stay home, limiting their movement beyond the immediate area of their home. All non-essential businesses were closed, and if residents want to exercise, it cannot be further than five miles from their residence. It’s the sixth weekend the Navajo Nation has locked down. 

Forbes reports that the lockdown is one of the strictest in the world because essential workers must have official documentation from their managers that they are required to go to their job.

Experts say that the Navajo Nation’s bleak statistics further prove that COVID-19 disproportionately affects minority communities. For example, New York magazine reports that Black and Latino New York residents die at about two times the rate of their white and Asian counterparts. 

Sources: CNN, Navajo Nation, Forbes, New York

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