Staying home on Easter is our ‘obligation’

The doors at San Felipe de Neri Catholic Church in the Old Town historic district of Albuquerque, New Mexico, remain closed Thursday, April 9, 2020. The Archdiocese of Santa Fe is urging parishioners to stay home during Holy Week as state public health orders prompted by the coronavirus outbreak limit gatherings and social contact. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

Indian Country Today

COVID-19 related news for Friday, April 10, 2020

Easter weekend is likely to look a lot different in Indian Country this year, with many tribes holding steady on curfews, travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders.

People are forgoing in-person religious services for on-screen ones and swapping out family gatherings for backyard egg hunts.

One of those skipping the get-togethers this year is U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico.

On a normal Easter, Haaland says she would travel to her mom’s house in Laguna Pueblo. This year, she plans to stay home and make food.

“We all have an obligation to do what we have to do in this health crisis,” Haaland said. “It is a small sacrifice for us to stay home and practice social distancing to stop the spread of this terrible virus.”

The congresswoman said she still encourages people to celebrate Easter if they want, but from their homes. It is still safe to go outside as long as you’re keeping your distance, she said.

(Related: Friday’s Indian Country Today reporter roundtable newscast)

Navajo Nation: Curfew offenders face jail, $1,000 fine

Staying in is required in places like the Navajo Nation, which has a 57-hour curfew starting Friday at 8 p.m. Possible jail time and a fine up to $1,000 is on the line for curfew breakers.

On Thursday, President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer announced both are self-quarantining after being near a first responder who tested positive for the coronavirus.

Navajo Nation coronavirus cases have increased daily since a first case was announced on March 17. There have been more than 550 cases reported on the Navajo Nation and at least 22 deaths.

The Associated Press is reporting that the worldwide death toll has surged past 100,000, while confirmed infections are approaching 1.7 million. In the U.S., confirmed cases have reached 486,000 and 18,000 people have died from coronavirus-related complications, according to Johns Hopkins University. So far, 372,428 have recovered.

Across Indian Country, positive cases are nearing 80 and 33 people have died, according to Indian Country Today data. 

Arizona secures extra ventilators for tribes, other areas

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced that the state secured 100 additional ventilators that will be deployed to critical need areas, including to tribal nations.

“Our tribal communities remain top of mind: I’ve been in touch with Navajo President Nez and Vice President Lizer about the need for supplies, personnel and ventilators,” Ducey said in a statement. “Arizona is committed to assisting ALL our tribes as they fight #COVID19.”

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson emerges from his office in Santa Fe, N.M., Thursday, March 9, 2020. Richardson is spearheading a charitable fund drive to help supply the Navajo Nation in New Mexico with personal protection and medical equipment to stem the spread of the coronavirus in cooperation with Molina Healthcare and the New Mexico Children's Foundation. Infections have surged on the Navajo Nation where there is limited access to everything from intensive care beds to surgical masks and household drinking water. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richard told the AP he launched a humanitarian effort in cooperation with Molina Healthcare and the New Mexico Children’s Foundation in an effort to aid the Navajo Nation. Richardson wants to boost access to medical and protective equipment supplies.

So many Navajo elders are vulnerable to this virus because they don’t have masks, they don’t have protective equipment,” he said.

The Crow Tribe in Montana confirmed its first coronavirus case on Friday. Chairman Alvin “AJ” Not Afraid Jr. said the patient is in self-isolation and a public health nurse is monitoring people who have had past contact.

Not Afraid issued a “stay home” order on Wednesday through April 30 for tribal citizens living on the reservation and prohibits public and private gatherings of people.

(More information: Indian Country's COVID-19 syllabus -- Data, story summaries, lists of closures, resources)

$20 million allocated for Native elder nutrition

U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) said eight tribes in Minnesota and many more across Indian Country are expected to receive funding as part of the $20 million allocated for Native elder nutrition programs as part of the CARES Act. Smith is a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. The amount received varies on each tribe. To see a full list, click here.

National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr encouraged association members that the comment period deadline to the Treasury Department regarding the tribal coronavirus relief fund is April 13.

“The National Indian Gaming Association is advocating for factors that give substantial weight to the amount of direct employees each tribal nation/enterprise employs,” Stevens said in a letter to tribal leaders. “Tribal governments and enterprises are working hard to retain their employees for as long as possible. The Treasury should focus their help on retaining, and returning, as many workers as possible to their job once the virus starts to subside.”

To read the full letter, click here.

In California, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians donated more than 40,000 pounds of food and supplies to Feeding America Riverside, San Bernardino.

“We know that there are so many people who are in need right now; many have lost their jobs or had their hours greatly cut back and cannot provide basic necessities for their families. Chairwoman Lynn Valbuena said in a statement. “The tribe’s giving spirit is deeply rooted in our beliefs and values that call on us to care for and support one another in times of need.”

Coronavirus cases climb

The Pueblo of Zuni reported 24 positive cases on April 10. This is an increase from the 15 cases and one death reported on April 7 and the two cases from April 1. The public notice indicates the updates are from the Zuni Health Service which is part of the Indian Health Service. The pueblo is 150 miles west of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Starting today, part of the Zuni community will be closed to travelers.

The Wind River Family and Community Healthcare in Wyoming reported 16 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases as of April 10, an increase of six cases from last week.

Michaela Sisneros, the director of nursing at the clinic, says all of the cases are tribal members: two of the tribal members do not live on the Wind River Reservation and the other 14 do. Majority of cases come from two households, two families where multiple generations live together. The reservation is home to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes.

Just this week, the clinic in Ethete started testing along with the clinic in Arapaho. Together the two clinics have conducted 1,100 tests. “We’re testing everyone who would like a test,” Sisneros said. Three clinics and pharmacies makeup the Wind River Family and Community Healthcare. The clinics only see tribal members and are tribally-run.

The clinics use two tests from the state and LabCorp. Both are nasal-pharangeal swabs but the clinics get limited tests from the state, Sisneros said. They are limited in the specific vials needed to transport the test to the state health department. The clinics can send LabCorp tests in a bottle of saline solution in a vial.

White Mountain Apache Tribe confirmed 11 positive cases as of April 10. This total does include the first case reported on April 1, but does not include the death of a tribal member off the reservation, said Jessica Rudolfo, executive director of the tribe’s division of health programs. All 11 cases are tribal members. There are six tests pending. 

As of April 10, there are 874 cases and 33 deaths in the Indian health system, according to Indian Country Today's database. 

Native professionals print 3D masks

A group of Native professionals who are graphic and industrial designers have come together to print 3D masks for medical professionals serving the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe. Since they began this project in March, they have produced 244 face shields.

To continue their project, Indige Design Collab is raising money to continue buying materials to meet their goal of making 1,000 face shields by the end of April.

“We started production in late March and have established over eight 3D printer partners in our network of design professionals, students, and community members,” Indige Design Collab founder Eunique Yazzie said. “Donations will give IDC the critical funds needed to provide our healthcare professionals and first responders with the appropriate personal protective equipment, or PPE, necessary to help keep them safe as they come into close contact with those affected by the Coronavirus.”

In addition to making the face shields, the group also packs them and delivers them every week. The Design Collab says they have been adhering to curfews and checkpoints that have been set up on different reservations.

Biden addresses COVID-19 racial inequities

Former Vice President Joe Biden issued a statement on Thursday addressing racial inequities of COVID-19. He called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to release more data on who is being infected by the coronavirus. In particular, a need for data on age, income and race.

Biden says this data helps policymakers focus resources on specific communities who need help.

One of those, Bides cites, is the Navajo Nation. Biden said his team has seen reports of high infection rates on the Navajo Nation “and fears about the disproportionate impact the virus could have on Indian Country.”

“This pandemic is shining a light on so many inequities in our society — the lack of paid sick leave for workers, the need for stronger unemployment insurance, the necessity for a livable minimum wage,” Biden wrote. “Unsurprisingly, it’s also amplifying the structural racism that is built into so much of our daily lives, our institutions, our laws, and our communities.”

The assumed Democratic candidate for president wrote that people of color including Black, Latino and Native people are less likely to have health insurance which results in less access to healthcare.

“We can do better for all our people,” Biden wrote. “We have to.”

Protect the Sacred

On Friday, Protect the Sacred on Facebook held an online discussion called: “Calling all heroes to protect the sacred.” The discussion include actors Mark Ruffalo, Paul Rudd, director Taika Waititi, President Nez, organizer Allie Young and recording artist Radmilla Cody. Check the organization’s Facebook page for a replay.

(Related: A sense of urgency in COVID-19 coverage ... and we need your help)

We also hope to hear from family members who had a loved one die from COVID-19. This is called: Portraits from the Pandemic. Indian Country Today publishes obituaries at no cost. Send the obituary and a photo (more is welcomed) to:

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Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Aliyah Chavez, Dalton Walker and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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