'This is why people should stay home'

Indian Country Today

COVID-19 related news for Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The Navajo Police Department announced two employees tested positive for COVID-19. Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco was notified on April 13. The names and roles of the two employees will not be released.

“Our employee’s health and wellbeing is a priority and as essential employees working in the field of public safety, we are not immune from the possibility of having one of our law enforcement family contract the virus. As the numbers of positive cases increase across the Navajo Nation, so does our risk of being exposed,” Francisco said. “The health and safety of our officers and the staff who work closely with them are a priority and we will monitor all personnel as we continue to provide essential services.”

The two staff members tested are monitoring their symptoms while in quarantine.

The Navajo Nation got off its partial lockdown, or “curfew,” this past weekend where police officers set up checkpoints and issued 177 citations. Before the curfew, officers have been out in many Navajo communities reminding people to say home and only go out for groceries and medicine.

“Our responsibilities put us in a high-risk environment and the concerns for officers and staff safety is always present. We will continue to support one another and get through this,” Francisco said. “Our officers remain dedicated and our services will continue. We will continue to support our staff members who are in quarantine and continue our job as public safety officers.”

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said this is why people should stay home.

"We understand the risks that all of our officers take every day and with the COVID-19 pandemic, the risk is escalated even higher. The safety of our officers is always the top priority that’s why it’s critical that everyone stays home as much as possible,” Nez said. “When people take unnecessary risks, it creates more challenges and compromises the well-being of those on the front lines.”

(Related: Indian Country's COVID-19 Syllabus)

Case updates
The Navajo Nation saw an increase of 25 positive cases and five deaths on Tuesday. The total number of positive cases is 838 in the Navajo Nation and 33 confirmed deaths.

The Choctaw Nation also saw six more positive cases yesterday and two today, making it a total of 32 cases. 

There are a total of 1,148 confirmed positive cases and 44 deaths in the Indian health system, according to Indian Country Today’s data. 

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Harold Joe with the Navajo Nation Indian Health Service Hospitals Command Center picked up personal protective equipment to assist the IHS hospitals health workers and first responders on the Navajo Nation. (Photo courtesy of PNM)

PNM delivers supplies in New Mexico
New Mexico’s largest electricity provider donated masks and hand sanitizer to Indian Health Service facilities on Navajo, Zia Pueblo and San Felipe Pueblo last Wednesday.

“This is a simple act of compassion for the front-line healthcare workers and tribal staff who are diligently fighting against the spread of COVID-19 in their communities,” said Pat Vincent-Collawn, President, CEO, and Chairman of PNM Resources.

PNM serves more than 525,000 people in New Mexico including eight pueblos. The items donated included N-95 masks that the company had in their inventory. The company says they are partnering with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority to donate more supplies in the future. 

Kai Kahele taking break from campaigning to volunteer for active duty
When Hawai’i State Senator Kai Kahele is not working in politics, he is a lieutenant colonel in the Hawai’i Air National Guard. Today, he announced he will be taking a break from the campaign trail to report for active duty.

Kahele is currently running to represent Hawai’i in the U.S. Congress. If elected, he will be the first representative from the Big Island. And the second Native Hawaiian to serve in office.

“I looked at this as an extension of how I could help our community during the COVID-19 crisis,” Kahele said in a video posted to his Twitter page. “As a father, son, husband, pilot, a state senator or a lieutenant colonel in the Hawai’i Air National Guard, the community is always first and foremost in my mind.”

His active duty is scheduled to end on May 14. 

Native nonprofits contribute $10,000 to support tribal elders

The American Indigenous Business Leaders started a fund to create and supply care packages for elders. Today, the American Indian Graduate Center joined them by committing $10,000 for the cause.

AIGC’s financial contribution came from the Rainer Scholarship Fund, which was established in memory of John Rainer, a member of the Taos Pueblo. He was one of the co-founders of the organization and its first director.

“Partnering with American Indigenous Business Leaders for this initiative aligns perfectly with our organization’s core values and the desire of our founder John Rainer to create a positive impact on Indian Country,” Angelique Albert, Executive Director of the American Indian Graduate Center said in a press release.

In the meantime, the American Indigenous Business leaders have a goal of raising $150,000 for this project. The organization plans for every care package to have food, water, cleaning products and other items. Details regarding where and when the care packages will be delivered will be determined by AIBL at a later time.

More tests, faster results for COVID-19 at Alaska Native Medical Center
A tribal health organization that co-manages the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage is urging people with mild symptoms to get tested for COVID-19.

“The drive-thru testing site on the Alaska Native Health Campus offers an easy way for more people to know their COVID-19 status faster than before in Alaska,” wrote the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. “ANMC medical staff are equipped with supplies and machines to test higher volumes of patients with quicker test turnaround times.”

“People eligible to receive care at ANMC are encouraged to be tested even with mild symptoms they think might be COVID-19 related.”

People eligible for services and symptomatic are asked to call for a test referral then visit a drive-through testing site. After testing, they are advised to self-isolate at home until they get their test results, which should be available in a day or two. A spokesperson for the consortium said the fast turnaround is possible with “kits and machines from Abbott Labs, the m2000 24-hour, as well as Cepheid Rapid testing capability.”

The consortium said tribal health organizations across the state have testing units and kits. Each region will use them in the best manner for their area. The devices may be moved around as needs change.

The consortium noted that medical experts have learned people can unknowingly spread the virus even if they’re not experiencing symptoms. “The more people tested, the more we know about how to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Aliyah Chavez and Joaqlin Estus contributed to this report. 

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