Light at the end of tunnel: Supplies making their way to Diné
The Navajo Nation Council approved $4 million in emergency funding from the Unreserved, Undesignated Fund Balance for the Navajo Department of Health’s response to COVID-19 during Friday’s special session.
President Jonathan Nez signed the resolution the same day.
“We need to get these funds out to the appropriate entities as soon as possible,” said Delegate Carl Slater, as he asked that the emergency funding bill, along with other bills, be bundled together in order for all to be voted on simultaneously without debate. This is referred to as a consent agenda.
“If we open this up for debate it’s not going to be an efficient use of our time,” said Slater, “and time is of the essence right now.”
The departments of Emergency Management and Health penned the $4 million emergency legislation, and the funds are said to be going toward resources, supplies, and equipment to health care experts and emergency response personnel; as well as providing medical supplies, food and water, equipment, and public outreach to affected communities.
On Monday of last week Council did not approve a similar bill that requested $3 million for the Department of Emergency Management Chapter Emergency Funds, which was also put together by DEM and DOH. At that time there had been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Navajo, but Tuesday the first two confirmed cases were found and by Friday there were 14 cases.
As of Tuesday evening there were 49 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Navajo. And on Thursday (March 26), there were 71 cases.
Although Trump signed an $8.3 billion bill to fight coronavirus earlier, with about $40 million going to tribes, Nez said he has not seen any of that money.
“I’ve yet to see any of that $40 million earmarked coming to this Nation,” he said. “A lot of funding being utilized right now, including tribes, is their own general fund dollars. We hope that leadership in Washington, D.C., see that Indian Country is suffering out here.”
Last year, the RHINO nitrile glove factory in Churchrock, New Mexico, was opened. Nez heavily touted this factory from the beginning.
He said a shipment of gloves from the factory would be sent to the people on the Navajo Nation Preparedness COVID-19 Team, and this includes first responders and hospitals.
The Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise and Central Consolidated School District helped out by donating surplus cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment to the Navajo Nation Police Department.
“We are trying to provide our officers with as much equipment as possible,” said Police Chief Phillip Francisco, who said they follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines when interacting with the public.
“Obviously across the Nation there is a shortfall of immediate to on-hand personal protective equipment,” he said. “My biggest priority is that I maintain my police force’s health and availability for the public, so when there is an emergency they can respond.”
Earlier this week the Navajo Nation received a shipment of PPE’s from Apache, Navajo and Coconino counties to go toward health care facilities and first responders on Navajo. The next batch of PPE’s coming from the Strategic National Stockpile is supposed to go straight to Navajo rather than through counties.
“Kayenta is in dire need of PPE’s so now they can provide additional screening services and medical services that were being delayed because of these equipments,” said Jill Jim, director for the Navajo Nation Department of Health. “I reiterated to the counties that we hope to continue to receive support from the counties and state to meet our medical supply needs.”