‘Bad news is, it is likely that we will see more’

Indian Country Today

Updated: Salt River, Gila River see new coronavirus cases

Two Arizona tribes in the Phoenix valley see their first COVID-19 cases while the Navajo Nation adds 20 more reports. The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community reported its first case and the Gila River Indian Community has two positive cases.

These new cases bring the total number of COVID-19 cases in the Indian health system to 64 and two deaths. Eight out of 10 deaths due to the coronavirus in the U.S. have been people 65 and older, according to the CDC.

Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community President Martin Harvier made the announcement Tuesday afternoon on the tribal government’s Facebook page.

The individual works for the tribal government and is a citizen of another federally-recognized tribe, Harvier said. The employee has been isolated at their home, he said. The employee does not live in Salt River, he added. No other details about the employee were given.

Harvier said a healthcare professional will follow up with guidance to individuals who may have been exposed to the employee.

“Our immediate concern right now is for this employee and for their family members,” Harvier said. “We are praying for a good recovery.”

The announcement came only hours after the tribe announced that its clinic would have a drive-up coronavirus testing option available for tribal citizens and other Native people enrolled in a federally-recognized tribe. The clinic has asked people to call ahead before driving in or drivers will be turned away. The service is available Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Pacific Time.

For enrolled tribal members living in the Phoenix area you can set up an appointment by calling (480) 362-2603 and select option 2. A public health nurse will then determine if testing should be conducted.

Salt River sits on the eastern edge of Scottsdale and the clinic is on the tribal government campus near Longmore and Osborn roads.

(Related story: Indian Country's COVID-19 syllabus)

Approximately 38 miles north of Salt River is the Gila River Indian Community where Governor Stephen Roe Lewis announced the two positive cases.

“Fortunately, out of the 39 tests that were conducted, there were only two positive results received. The bad news is, it is likely that we will see more in the coming days. That is a fact of life at this point,” Lewis said. “It is also a fact that the Community is taking aggressive actions to respond to the pandemic and stay ahead of it. And you can do your part too.”

The tribe formed their COVID-19 task force on Jan. 29. The tribe also closed down their gaming enterprises and schools, and limits meetings to less than 10 people.

Community members can reach out to the tribe’s coronavirus hotline at (520) 550-6079 that is available 24/7 to Gila River and non-Gila River tribal members for health care related questions.

The Navajo Nation President and Vice President were also told of 10 new positive COVID-19 cases. Five hours later, another news release was sent out stating 10 more cases came out positive. The Navajo Nation, which falls into three states, now has a total of 49 cases in five counties in two states. 

Thirty cases are in Navajo County in Arizona, seven are in Apache County in Arizona, and six in Coconino County in Arizona, four cases are in McKinley County, and two are in San Juan County in New Mexico.

“Help beat the virus by staying home,” President Nez said. “To prevent a massive public health crisis, every person must remain home, unless you need food, medicine, or other essential items, but beyond that we shouldn’t have anyone traveling or going out into the public. If you need essential items, send only one person and use every precaution available.”

Navajo Nation residents can register to receive alerts from the Navajo Department of Emergency Management by texting “NavajoNation” to 888777 or registering online.

Navajo Nation COVID-19 shelter in place phone alert. (Photo courtesy of Linda Bennett-Begaye)
Navajo Nation COVID-19 shelter in place phone alert. (Photo courtesy of Linda Bennett-Begaye)
Navajo Nation COVID-19 shelter in place phone alert. (Photo courtesy of Norman C. Begaye)
Navajo Nation COVID-19 shelter in place phone alert. (Photo courtesy of Norman C. Begaye)

Yesterday the Tulalip Tribes Emergency Management Team announced two more cases. One individual shows symptoms and the second person does not show symptoms.

“This highlights the need to stay home and stop visiting, hugging, or interacting with anyone other than your immediate family,” as stated in the news release. “It is critical to understand that you may show no symptoms and still be carrying and transmitting the disease. Social distancing means that you only interact with the people who live in your immediate household.”

The tribe closed all its facilities. The tribe is located in Washington state, 32 miles north of the Life Care Center in Kirkland where experts say the coronavirus originated within the U.S.

The tribe hasn’t closed its reservation borders.

“We’ve been asked about closing the Reservation borders to non-residents. We want to remind everyone that we are not likely to catch COVID-19 from passing by a stranger. We are most likely to get it by having conversations with our loved ones,” per the statement. “At the same time, we drop off supplies and bring them into the house, or the hug or kiss we give an elder before we leave. We are likely to get it by visiting with our neighbors and letting our kids play with their neighborhood friends.”

However, Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, White Earth, encourages everyone to stay home after losing her brother to COVID-19 this past weekend.

“THIS is why we must #StayHome,” Flanagan wrote on her Instagram. “If you feel fine, that’s great. But please consider the possibility that you’re carrying the virus and don’t know it, and then you walk past the next Ron, my big brother, in public. COVID-19 now has a personal connection to me. Please do all you can to prevent one for you.”

Child death in Los Angeles County

Los Angeles County has reported what may be the first confirmed U.S. death of a child from coronavirus.

Health officials say the youth lived in the Mojave Desert city of Lancaster located north of Los Angeles. County public health director Barbara Ferrer says it’s a “devastating reminder that COVID-19 infects people of all ages.”

She did not provide any details about the child.

A report last week by the Centers for Disease Control found no coronavirus deaths in the U.S. among people 19 and under. That age group accounted for less than 3 percent of all hospitalizations.

Figures from Johns Hopkins University show California cases have topped 2,500, with at least 50 deaths.

Coping with the stress and anxiety

The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and sudden changes, especially in lifestyle, can be overwhelming.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists ways to cope with the stress such as taking breaks, taking care of your body, connecting with others and more.

If you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or have thoughts of harming yourself you can call the Disaster Distress Hotline at 1-800-985-5990. Listen to the prompts and a person will come on the line to speak with you. Understand there are many people who need this service at this time, so you may have to wait a short time.

The CDC uses the phrase shelter-in-place to tell people to stay home. The only time anyone should leave is to get food or medicine. This means you should not go visit a relative or friend even if it’s only for a few minutes. Nor should you take a walk in a crowded area. The CDC recommends staying six feet from others to avoid the risk of coming in contact with the virus. The CDC also says someone who appears healthy may still be carrying the coronavirus. 

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Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Patty Talahongva, Dalton Walker and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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