Another death in Arizona as COVID-19 cases ‘keep climbing’

A semi-truck drives down a highway passing an Arizona Department of Transportation public service display Thursday, March 26, 2020, in Chandler, Ariz. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye

Dr. Sara Jager from Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation wrote that the facility needs supplies; third coronavirus relief package includes funding for tribal colleges and universities

Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation’s first positive COVID-19 test was a deceased 49-year-old male with underlying health conditions. John Fedyna, acting director of the Wassaja Memorial Health Center, confirmed the non-Fort McDowell tribal citizen died of COVID-19.

The patient died before the release of the test result. The novel coronavirus caused pneumonia in the patient, which is what the virus does, Fedyna said, and it led to complications. He said the patient resided on the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation.

The cases “will keep climbing,” Fedyna said. “Lack of testing is not being disseminated” and “nothing is being distributed out here,” the director said over the phone.

“Tribal and community members with close contacts of the deceased are taking recommended precautions of self-quarantine and self-monitoring for symptoms” as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fedyna said in the press release.

Arizona state health officials say that the state will probably not reach its peak until late April.

(Check out: Indian Country's COVID-19 syllabus)

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe confirmed a positive COVID-19 case which is in Todd County. It is likely this is the tribe’s first case. The individual’s family is isolated at their home, according to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Communications.

President Rodney Bordeaux initiated a reservation-wide curfew effective March 28 at 12:01 a.m. The tribe’s hospital is not allowing visitors for the safety of their patients, staff and community starting today.

“This temporary restriction will be in place only during the COVID-19 pandemic and is designed to help stop the spread of this dangerous virus. When you come to the hospital, any visitors who accompany you will be asked to remain in the car,” according to the tribe’s website. “If you are bringing in your child or you are the caregiver of the patient you are accompanying, you will be allowed to stay with your child or the person depending on you.”

Thursday two more positive cases were reported in the Navajo Nation, reaching up to 71 cases.

“According to health care and pandemic experts, the best way to beat this virus is to stay home, unless you have an emergency or need food or other essential items. There are many test results pending and the number of positive tests is going to increase quickly as long as people continue to be careless by traveling and ignoring precautions,” President Nez said. “There are people who don’t know they have the virus who are spreading it by going into public – that’s the reality of the situation. There’s been calls from the public to close all roads, but the fact is that we do not have sufficient public safety personnel and resources to man roadways around the clock. Our officers are needed in our communities.”

Nez said the increase of cases directly affects the resources in health care facilities, such as personnel, protective equipment, hospital beds, and more, on the Navajo Nation.

“There’s a national shortage in hospital facilities and supplies and it’s only going to get worse until people adhere to precautionary measures,” he said. “We are doing our best to get supplies where they are needed. To our health care workers, thank you for everything you are doing and please know that we are praying and doing everything we can to get you help.”

Dr. Sara Jager works at the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation in Tuba City, Arizona. She wrote on Facebook, before she turned on her privacy setting, that the facility needs supplies.

“We are being hit hard by COVID. We do not have enough gowns, masks, or face shields to protect all of the members of our triage, ER, and inpatient units,” wrote Jager who is a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Public Health Service and the Deputy Chief of Pediatrics.

She said they need homemade face masks for coughing patients “to contain the spread of virus among members in the home as well as for use in the ER or other clinic visits. We may also use them over top of the N95 mask to protect the N95 from contamination.”

Homemade gowns that are long-sleeve and to the knee are also needed for the health care workers. The preferred-cotton gowns protect personnel from the virus and will be washed by the hospital’s laundry service.

Face shields are also a must. “People have been making these as well,” she said. “This protects our eyes from coughing/sputum. These will be worn by healthcare workers seeing patients.”

“Usually these are single use items, but we are re-using all of them right now,” Jager said.

There are now 89 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases and three deaths in the Indian health system, according to Indian Country Today’s database. A larger number was reported earlier today because Indian Country Today included numbers from the Indian Health Service cases. However, IHS only displays areas of where the cases are and won’t release data from the specific service unit. They also report data from direct-service facilities and not tribally-run, or 638-contract, facilities. As a result, some cases were double counted.

Unemployment numbers reach an all-time high

A record of 3.28 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in one week. The previous high was nearly 700,000 in 1982.

The $2 trillion coronavirus relief package passed by the Senate and expected to pass this week by the House will help the surge in unemployment applicants. It will give larger checks, increase the duration of the checks, and jobless benefits extend to gig workers.

(Previous story: COVID-19 financial strain? Here are resources in 50 states)

The Seattle Indian Health Board started over-the-phone healthcare, or telehealth, for its patients since Governor Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order and the increase of closures.

Patients will have access to the same health professionals, western and traditional medicine, as if they were at the clinic in person. If a provider needs to see the patient in person, a follow-up appointment can be scheduled. If a patient can’t access by phone, they can receive clinical services in person.

“The safety of our relatives is our number one priority, and we are doing everything we can to support the community by maintaining access to healthcare,” said Dr. Emily Ashbaugh, chief medical officer of Seattle Indian Health Board. “Telehealth services allow our care teams to stay connected with our relatives and offer them the best possible care and support during this difficult time.”

Part of the staff at the Seattle Indian Health Board fall into the high-risk group of COVID-19 so the clinical staff is smaller. Because of this decrease, the clinic is closed on Saturday indefinitely.

TCUs in the relief package

The American Indian Higher Education Consortium, a support network for the 37 tribal colleges and universities focused on federal policies for American Indian higher education, appreciates the financial support that the $2 trillion stimulus package could provide tribal colleges and universities.

The stimulus package has a $30 billion national “Education Stabilization Fund.” Part of that is $20 million emergency relief to tribal colleges and universities via the Bureau of Indian Education and an additional $153 million to the BIE.

“For state-based education programs, this funding is split nearly 50-50 between K-12 schools and higher education, and AIHEC expects a similar division by the BIE,” says the news release.

(Previous story: Senate vote pending; $8 billion for tribes, $2 billion for agencies)

More funding is available to tribal colleges and universities under the U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Act of 1965 Title III program of approximately $50 million for tribal colleges and universities, $25 million for Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian-serving institutions, and $6 million for Native American-seriving, non-tribal institutions.

Tribal colleges and universities are eligible for funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Education.

“While important to address immediate, short-term needs, the funding falls far short of the

estimated $140 million TCUs – and their students – need to adequately and equitably address the critical postsecondary, workforce development, research, and community-support challenges facing Indian Country as the COVID-19 virus sweeps across this country, in all four directions,” says the press release.

(More: U.S. Senate passes historic levels of funding for Indian Country in phase III coronavirus response)

Tribal colleges and universities and students of these institutions have been trying to adjust to the rapid change of online learning due to COVID-19. Besides being the

“The road ahead is difficult: TCUs are among the most under-resourced institutions in the country, and TCU students are among the financially poorest. In fact, 78 percent of TCU students receive Pell grants, more than half are first-generation students, and about 85

percent are rural residents from federally recognized Indian tribes. Many lack reliable Internet access at home,” says the consortium.

According to a survey conducted by Educause and the consortium in 2018 and 2019, tribal colleges and universities have “the slowest Internet access, at the highest average cost, of any group of institutions of higher education in the country.”

“The average connectivity speed at TCUs is 336 Mbps, compared to 513 Mbps at other two-year institutions and 3.5 Gbps at other four-year institutions. The average connectivity costs at TCUs range from $40,000 to $250,000 per year,” the consortium stated. “Iḷisaġvik College, a TCU, has both the most expensive and slowest Internet connectivity in the entire U.S. higher education system.”

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Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is the Washington editor for Indian Country Today based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @jourdanbb. Email: jbennett-begaye@indiancountrytoday.com

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