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COVID-19

Native American tribes, facing COVID-19 surges, need more medical, financial aid

Nova Safo May 8, 2020
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COVID-19 cases in the Navajo Nation are expected to peak in the next week or two. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
COVID-19

Native American tribes, facing COVID-19 surges, need more medical, financial aid

Nova Safo May 8, 2020
Heard on:
COVID-19 cases in the Navajo Nation are expected to peak in the next week or two. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Native American tribes are grappling with a surge of COVID-19 cases. The Navajo Nation in the Southwest has one of the worst outbreaks in the country.

The federal government sent billions of dollars in aid this week, but tribes say it’s not enough and their limited infrastructure is being overwhelmed.

In battling the coronavirus, Native American tribes face unique challenges.

“We live in food deserts,” said Allie Young of the Navajo Nation, which is located in parts of Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. “Thirty percent of our people don’t have running water. Forty percent of our people don’t have electricity.”

Young has launched a grassroots campaign to enlist medical and financial aid. Her group says there are just 13 ICU beds on the reservation for a population of 175,000 people living in an area bigger than West Virginia.

“The hospital beds are full,” said Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation. “We had to open three alternative care facilities. Those are gymnasiums retrofitted.”

COVID-19 cases on Navajo land are expected to peak in the next week or two. Eighty-five people have already died.

This week the federal government released nearly $5 billion in aid, with $3 billion more available. But one advocacy group estimated tribes will need $20 billion to deal with the pandemic.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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