COVID-19 takes lives of 2 of our Dine’ relatives

The death of two members of the Navajo Nation was not the first sentence in an early Friday night press release from Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer Friday

It was the second sentence: “They also confirmed two deaths related to COVID-19.”

The title of the Nez-Lizer press release was: “21 new cases of COVID-19 reported for Navajo Nation, two deaths confirmed.”

The identify of our two late relatives was not in the Nez-Lizer press release. Their clans were not mentioned. Where they originally came from was also not shared. There were no ages. We don’t even know if they were male or female. The only identity given by Nez and Lizer is “two deaths.”

I thought that maybe the families had asked that the names of their late family members not be release. But as I read through the press release, there was no mention of such a request by the families. Nez and Lizer also did say if the Navajo Nation government assisted with funeral costs.

Nez did say in his press release, “Our condolences and prayers go out to the families of the two individuals who have passed on. We also pray for all of those who are fighting to recover from the virus. We cannot thank our health care workers and first responders enough for everything they are doing to help our people. To our Navajo people, let’s help our healthcare workers by staying home and isolating ourselves as much as possible. Our public safety officers are needed in our communities every day, and we don’t want to have to take them away from those duties to force people to stay home – we don’t have to go to that extent if people simply listen to the health care experts.”

The 21 new cases of COVID-19 reported by Nez and Lizer brings the total number of our Dine’ relatives that have tested positive for COVID-19 to 92. The first Dine’ to test positive for COVID-19 was March 17, which was ten days ago. In ten days, 92 of our Dine’ relatives were infected with COVID-19 and two of our Dine’ relatives passed away.

Sending prayers of love, comfort, healing to the families of our two Dine’ relatives, whose lives were taken by COVID-19.

Indian Country Today,, reported Friday that there are five confirmed deaths of Native people related to the coronavirus. Also on Friday, Indian Country Today reported that an Alaska Native and a citizen of the White Mountain Apache Tribe died from coronavirus complications.

According to Indian Country Today, as of Saturday, March 28, 2020,: the total cases confirmed in the Indian health system is 117, which they stated is confirmed by tribes, the Indian Health Service, state public health agencies or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Also as of Saturday, March 28, 2020, Indian Country Today reported that the total deaths in the Indian health system is 7, which is confirmed by tribes, the Indian Health Service, state public health agencies or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

National Congress of American Indians CEO Kevin Allis said in a news release that as the COVID-19 pandemic has now reached all 50 states, tribal governments also face heightened challenges to protect their citizens and have inadequate federal funding and resources to do so.

“We cannot ignore the elevated risks faced by Indian Country from this virus,” Allis noted. “The federal government’s chronic underfunding of its treaty and trust responsibilities to American Indians and Alaska Natives must end – lives are at risk.”

He said American Indian and Alaska Natives experience higher rates of the underlying medical conditions that increase the risk of severe illness and death caused by COVID-19 as compared to the general US population.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, those at highest risk for complications associated with COVID-19 are the elderly, who are age 60 years and more, and those with chronic diseases or who are immunocompromised, which includes:

  • Heart disease
  • Lung disease including asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Endocrine disorders such as diabetes
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Compromised immune system, taking immunosuppression medications

Allis emphasized that compounding this risk is the significantly higher rates of overcrowded housing in Indian Country, which increases the risk of coronavirus transmission and makes the recommended social distancing strategy unfeasible in many tribal homes and communities.

According to a 2017 report on the Housing Needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives in Tribal Areas:

  • 16 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native households in tribal areas are overcrowded compared to 2 percent for the United States.
  • Among the 213 largest tribal areas, the quarter with the highest levels of overcrowding—all more than 18 percent— was mostly in the poorest regions—the Plains, Arizona/New Mexico, and Alaska.

“The appearance of COVID-19 within any American Indian or Alaska Native reservation or community could be a recipe for disaster,” Allis warned. “Despite this, Indian Country has been left out of the national conversation on critical response and recovery efforts.

“More attention must be given to the unprecedented risk and harm tribal communities now face,” he added. “NCAI is committed to discussing needs with leaders and media to ensure that Indian Country’s needs do not go unmet.”

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