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Navajo Nation Has Highest COVID-19 Infection Rate In The U.S.

The high number of infections per capita put a spotlight on existing disparities in America.

A Navajo husband and wife in Arizona during the coronavirus outbreak. (Getty Images)
A Navajo husband and wife in Arizona during the coronavirus outbreak. (Getty Images)

The Navajo Nation now has the highest confirmed rates of COVID-19 per capita in the U.S., bypassing New York and New Jersey, which have been epicenters of the country’s outbreak in recent months. 

The Navajo Nation is spread out across parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico and is the largest area of land with an indigenous tribe in the U.S. As of 2010, 173,667 people live in the Navajo Nation, according to the U.S. census. There are currently 4,002 confirmed cases in the territory, which means the per-capita rate for coronavirus is 2,304.41 cases per 100,000 people. According to an analysis of Johns Hopkins University data, the rate in New York is 1,806 cases per 100,000 people, and 1,668 cases per 100,000 in New Jersey.

At least 142 people have died from COVID-19 in the nation, according to its own reported statistics.

The COVID-19 outbreak  has affected minority communities in the U.S. more deeply than others, with unequal rates of infection and death among Black and Hispanic Americans. Some of the reasons for the disproportionate effects of the virus  are existing disparities in health care, medical and employment resources. The Navajo Nation had approximately 170 hospital beds and 28 ventilators for its entire population as of late March. In New Mexico, Native Americans make up around 10% of the population, but accounted for about 29% of the state’s cases in early May.

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The Navajo and other indigenous tribes in the U.S. have experienced extreme socioeconomic inequalities compared to the rest of the country. According to Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, 30 to 40% of residents don’t have access to running water, which means people aren’t able to follow the frequent handwashing rules recommended by the CDC to stop the spread. 

Nez also called attention to the fact that the nation is a food desert in an interview on CNN. There are just 13 grocery stores across the nation’s 27,000 square miles, which means crowds at grocery stores, convenience stores and gas stations are unavoidable. Additionally, poor access to nutritious food and an even poorer quality of health care have led to a rate of diabetes that is double the national average. Public health officials have warned that pre-existing conditions, including diabetes, can lead to a greater risk of infection with and complications by COVID-19.

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