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Bill Richardson Helping Navajos Whose Rez Virus Has Swept Through "With Ferocity"; Disproportionately High Death Rate

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Navajo Nation Outbreak Correspondent Laura Paskus begins a series of interviews with journalists around the state as they cover COVID-19 in their communities. Noel Smith reports on ...
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Former Navajo President Peterson Zah: "It's like rain you're way out in the desert, like on the Navajo Nation, and you look out during the summer and you know that the rain is coming because the clouds are billowing up and you've got to prepare," he said from his home in the Navajo capital of Window Rock, Arizona. "People started running around when it started raining. Before the rain came, we should have been all in sync with one another." Noting the high number of cases on the reservation, Zah said his community has resorted to curfews in order to avoid panic but that he has determined that the reaction to the first faraway U.S. coronavirus outbreaks was too slow.

Zah developed a friendship and a working relationship with Richardson in the 80s, and said he has been amazed by the rate of infection across the Navajo community of about 300,000 people in an area slightly larger than West Virginia.

"You accept that and say, OK, what is the need here?" Zah said. "There must be something that people can do, particularly those from outside the Navajo Nation, people that can help."


From an AP story:

Confirmed COVID-19 infections have hit Indian country hard, especially several New Mexico pueblos and on the Navajo reservation.

Richardson, a former U.N. ambassador and two term NM governor, told The Associated Press that his enduring sense of gratitude and friendship with the Navajo people prompted him to provide seed money and launch the humanitarian effort in cooperation with Molina Healthcare and the New Mexico Children's Foundation.

Partnering with the New Mexico Children's Foundation and Molina Healthcare, Governor Richardson's COVID-19 Navajo Families Relief Fund will start to immediately purchase PPE for delivery to be distributed to areas on the Nation where they are needed. The fund has started purchasing masks, gloves, gowns, and additional PPE to deliver to families and clinics in the Navajo Nation. The fund will partner with Navajo organizations, clinics, and volunteers that have established a distribution infrastructure for food, water, and emergency supplies.

"The Navajo people face an unprecedented challenge as coronavirus spreads through the Nation," said Richardson. The public can also make donations to the fund by visiting the New Mexico Children's Foundation website or by mailing a check to New Mexico Children's Foundation, PO Box 8182, Santa Fe, NM 87504. For check donations, indicate on the memo line that it is for the Richardson Navajo Fund.

"So many Navajo elders are vulnerable to this virus because they don't have masks, they don't have protective equipment," said Richardson, who credits Navajo political support for his initial election to Congress in 1982. Richardson fears the pandemic could reach a vast scale of suffering reminiscent of the 19th century forced removal of Navajos in the "Long Walk."

Thousands of Navajos endured cold, disease and starvation in the U.S. government's attempt to move them to a desolate tract of land hundreds of miles away in eastern New Mexico. In 1868, they signed a treaty with the federal government to secure a return to their homeland.

Richardson credited Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a fellow Democrat, with "getting ahead of this crisis" and complimented Nez for implementing a weekend and evening curfew to slow the spread of the virus. "The Navajo people face an unprecedented challenge as coronavirus spreads through the Nation," said Richardson.


Navajo Department of Health issue order requiring face protection in public

by KRQE Staff / Apr 18, 2020

WINDOW ROCK, AZ (KRQE) - The Navajo Department of Health issued a new public health order Friday requiring all individuals on the Navajo Nation to wear protective masks in public to prevent further spread of COVID-19. Public Health Emergency Order 2020-007 defines a mask as a covering designed to filter one's breathing through both the nose and mouth. The mask can be commercially or homemade.

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