Shake hands? A hug? People don’t seem ready to change

(Navajo Nation BIA via Twitter)

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye

Surgeon General: ‘America … It’s going to get bad’

This morning U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said on national television, “I want America to understand this week, it's going to get bad.” As if he needed proof, the number of positive cases for COVID-19 listed on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doubled over the weekend. There are now 33,404 cases and 400 people across the country have died.

“Right now, there are not enough people out there who are taking this seriously,” Adams said.

(See related story: President weeks, not months)

This rings true even at the hotspot of the cases in Indian Country. The Navajo Nation, which falls within New Mexico, reported three more positive cases Monday, reaching a total of 29 within the tribal nation. Indian Country Today tracks 38 cases in the Indian health system and 2 deaths. 

Most of the cases are around Chilchinbeto, Arizona, a tight knit community where everyone shakes hands and gives hugs to say hello.

“And now, it's like people don't want to change,” said Nate Brown, a council delegate for the Navajo Nation. Council delegates are like the equivalent of a congressional member with a district. His constituents include Chilchinbeto, Kayenta and Dennehotso.

The community is adapting to this new lifestyle. For example, firefighters are doing drop-and-vacate distributions of resources and care packages to each household, especially high-risk individuals, in Chilchinbeto. The firefighters wear personal protective equipment to protect themselves and the people.

Individuals are instructed to write a list of needed items such as medications or food, and place the list on their window. Firefighters take the list and get a count of the items needed.

Cell biology professor Carolyn Machamer of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine has studied the biology of coronaviruses for many years.

Even though a person can catch the infection through the air and .1 percent of the virus is left on surfaces, cleaning surfaces with soap or a disinfectant is “very effective” because “once the oily surface coat of the virus is disabled, there is no way the virus can infect a host cell.”

When these care packages and resources are delivered to the high-risk individuals, the items are cleaned, wiped down, and kept away from too many people from touching those items, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a call with news reporters today.

The nation’s personnel have been trained and personal protective equipment in handling these deliveries, Nez said. They also stay six feet away when delivering, or drop-and-vacate.

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Brown has been staying at home since March 17. He made a commitment to do so after seeing that he couldn’t be out in public.

On March 14, he was in Farmington with friends eating out and ran into an elder in his 70s. Brown said he told the elder he couldn’t shake hands due to public health reasons. Brown recalled the elder saying in Navajo, “Whatever. You believe that? Come over here and shake my hand and give me a hug.” He hugged Brown.

“And I felt so bad because if I know this amount of information and I'm not self quarantine I'm putting the people at risk, my people and it just broke my heart because that first Saturday I was shaking a lot of hands. I probably shook like close to 1,000 hands.”

Brown says the Chilchinbeto area had multiple large gatherings on March 7 that had at least 150 in attendance.

On March 13, Brown said he started having symptoms when he was at his friend’s house in Farmington, New Mexico. He was coughing and had a chest pain, he said. He got tested March 17 at the Gallup Indian Medical Center. He was told his results would be ready in three to four days. It’s almost one week now.

The first confirmed case on the Navajo Nation was announced March 17. One case, people were in disbelief, Brown said. Within the week of the cases spiking, people have been “panicking,” Brown said and with few grocery stores in the nation, that causes some issues.

It doesn’t help that some young people think they can’t get it, too. That’s part of the “misconceptions out there,” he said.

In a rural community, Brown said they have been trying everything to get the word out to the public like radio, social media, the newspaper, forums, billboards; everything they can think of.

In Chinle, the Navajo Nation Police Department is driving in the community telling people to stay home.

D. Tsosie took this video of the Navajo Nation Police driving through Chinle on March 22 at 5:50 p.m. telling residents to stay home. Tsosie has lived in Chinle for six years.

The awareness has improved and the efforts to educate people is the difference, Brown thinks, when comparing the hantavirus that happened in the Navajo Nation in the 1990s when he was a teenager and COVID-19 right now.

The Navajo Nation passed an emergency legislation, 21-0, on March 20 that requests New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to activate the Naat’áanii Development Corporation – Molina Healthcare, Incorporated Indian Managed Care Entity.

This legislation gives access to necessary Medicaid funds for the Navajo Nation to fight COVID-19. “This is the first Indian Managed Care Entity, and Navajo will likely be the only tribe to have this level of access to Medicaid dollars during this important time,” said Mellor Willie, of Chee Consulting. When activated, the corporation could get up to $40 million.

“In this time of crisis, we need all the available resources we can get to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus on the Navajo Nation. The Council was wise in fast-tracking this initiative— Congress passed legislation increasing Medicaid by 6.2 percent to fight the coronavirus; however, that extra money is not impactful unless the NDC Managed Care Organization (MCO) is able to access those funds,” said Navajo Nation Council Delegate Daniel Tso, chairman of the Navajo Nation Council’s Health, Education and Human Services Committee. “We can no longer be the forgotten population. We need the extra dollars and I strongly urge the Navajo President to sign the legislation.”

Part of the Navajo Nation lies in New Mexico where the governor issued a stay-at-home order today that is effective Tuesday, March 24 at 8 a.m. until April 10. It also includes closing non-essential businesses and having them work remotely. The state has 83 cases. The state is home to 23 tribes.

Today Trump approved the California disaster declaration where federal assistance will help state, tribal and local recovery efforts impacted by COVID-19 that started on January 20 and on.

“The President's action makes Federal funding available for Crisis Counseling for affected individuals in all areas in the State of California,” said the White House Press Secretary. “Federal funding is also available to State, tribal, and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations for emergency protective measures, including direct Federal assistance, for all areas in the State of California impacted by COVID-19.”

San Manuel Band of Mission Indians is extending the closure of their casino through April 11. 

"The Tribe will continue to pay all team members, including benefits, during this time," said the tribe in a news release. "The health and safety of our guests, team members, and Tribal Citizens is our highest priority.

2020 Summer Olympics

Today International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound told USA Today that the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo will be postponed.

"The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know,” Pound said. Details will be worked out in the coming weeks and the games will most likely be in 2021.

The decision comes after Canada announced this past weekend they will not be sending its athletes to Japan.

The United States Olympic and Paralympic chair Susanne Lyons and CEO Sarah Hirshland released a statement this evening.

“Our most important conclusion from this broad athlete response is that even if the current significant health concerns could be alleviated by late summer, the enormous disruptions to the training environment, doping controls and qualification process can’t be overcome in a satisfactory manner,” they said in the news release. “To that end, it’s more clear than ever that the path toward postponement is the most promising, and we encourage the IOC to take all needed steps to ensure the Games can be conducted under safe and fair conditions for all competitors.”

Abortion ban in Texas

The governor and attorney general of Texas are moving to ban most abortions in the state during the coronavirus outbreak, declaring they don't qualify as essential surgeries.

Attorney General Ken Paxton said Monday that the order issued over the weekend by Gov. Greg Abbott barred “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.”

Failure to comply with the order can result in penalties of up to $1,000 or 180 days of jail time, Paxton said.

“No one is exempt from the governor’s executive order on medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures, including abortion providers,” Paxton said. “Those who violate the governor’s order will be met with the full force of the law.”

Trump advice leads to man’s death

A Phoenix-area man has died and his wife was in critical condition after the couple took chloroquine phosphate, an additive used to clean fish tanks that is also found in an anti-malaria medication that's been touted by President Donald Trump as a treatment for COVID-19.

Banner Health said Monday that the couple in their 60s got sick within half an hour of ingesting the additive. The man couldn't be resuscitated when he arrived at a hospital, but the woman was able to throw up much of the chemical, Banner said.

It’s unclear if the couple took it specifically because of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, but now Banner Health is warning everyone to avoid self-medicating.

“Given the uncertainty around COVID-19, we understand that people are trying to find new ways to prevent or treat this virus, but self-medicating is not the way to do so,” said Dr. Daniel Brooks, Banner Poison and Drug Information Center medical director. “The last thing that we want right now is to inundate our emergency departments with patients who believe they found a vague and risky solution that could potentially jeopardize their health.”

At a news conference last week, Trump falsely stated that the Food and Drug Administration had just approved the use of an anti-malaria medication called chloroquine to treat patients infected with coronavirus. Even after the FDA chief clarified that the drug still needs to be tested for that use, Trump overstated the drug’s potential upside in containing the virus.

Chloroquine is obtained by prescription, and Banner Health is now urging medical providers against prescribing it to people who aren’t hospitalized. The difference between the fish tank cleaning additive that the couple took and the drug used to treat malaria is the way they are formulated.

Dr. Adams stressed prevention because treating the problem is not the way out.

“Everyone needs to act as if they have the virus right now. So, test or no test, we need you to understand you could be spreading it to someone else. Or you could be getting it from someone else. Stay at home,” he said.

"But the other important point is that we're not going to ventilator our way out of this problem. We're not going to treat our way out of this problem," Dr. Adams said at the end of the interview with the Today Show. "The way you stop the spread of an infectious disease like this is with mitigation measures and preventing people from getting it in the first place."

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Mark Trahant and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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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