Guest Column | Division of Health provides partial, incorrect Covid data
By Mihio Manus
Data that is collected from a trusted agency can be our best defense in the battle against COVID-19.
On the Navajo Nation, that agency is the Navajo Department of Health and the platform they use to deliver the data is the Navajo Nation COVID-19 Dashboard.
The data they present is an important tool to help us decipher the trends in new cases, Covid deaths and vaccination rates.
If the data is incorrect, inconsistent or skewed, it can create a public health quagmire that gives an unrealistic assessment of the state of Covid on the Nation.
Currently, this is the state of the COVID-19 Dashboard.
The Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund tracks the Covid data NDOH provides on a weekly basis. Between Aug. 12 and Aug. 19, there were 1,816 new cases of Covid.
This number is derived from a comparison of the total confirmed case count taken from the dashboard from Friday to Friday.
Per the NDOH COVID-19 dashboard, between Aug. 19 and Aug. 26, there were 7,308 new cases on the Navajo Nation. This increase was completely shocking to us.
We contacted NDOH and spoke with a team member who told us that the cause of the increase was an Indian Health Service facility that had submitted late reporting of their data.
The team member said that some of the new cases reported by this facility dated back to last year.
Oddly enough, the number of deaths in this same Aug. 19 to Aug. 26 timeframe had conversely gone down from 1,885 to 1,879, a decrease of six deaths.
The NDOH team member said this was due to reconciliation of data from the underreporting facility in which certain deaths attributed to Covid were not caused by the virus. Yet, if the facility wasn’t reporting, how was there any death data from them to correct and decrease?
Where is the accountability in data reporting from our IHS and ’638 facilities to NDOH?
Are there other facilities out there who aren’t reporting their data as well? This raises so many questions.
If these new cases extend back to last year, then the situation reports since then have all presented incorrect data. For the number of new cases to jump over 7,300 in one week and have it rationalized that it’s because of a reconciliation of data that extends several months to a year back can only mean that NDOH has been less than honest with the Navajo people.
As it stands, we’re also flying in the dark when it comes to vaccination rates on the Nation.
Within the last year, NDOH changed the way they’re reporting vaccination status by classifying those who have received two doses of the Covid vaccine as having completed the primary series.
Those who have received two doses and a booster are classified as up to date but we’re not presented with data regarding how many months out people are from having gotten their booster.
The CDC recommends that adults 50 and over or those immunocompromised get their second booster four months after having gotten the first booster.
How is this accounted for in the vaccination status reporting from NDOH, if at all?
Beyond these jarring issues, on Aug. 5, NDOH didn’t update their data. When we called to find out why, the receptionist said that the agency might have moved to only reporting on a two-week basis.
The receptionist also said the data, at the time, was under review by NDOH Executive Director Dr. Jill Jim.
It turns out the move to two-week reporting wasn’t true but that the data was just stuck in the limbo of clearance by Jim.
All we’re asking for is true data to help us get a clear picture of how Covid is impacting the Nation.
We believe the Nation is on the verge of a surge similar to the Delta surge that occurred last fall and morphed into the devastating Omicron surge.
But we can’t know or anticipate this if we are getting partial or incorrect data from NDOH. This impacts our ability to prepare another wave of Covid relief.
We’ve also asked for copies of all situation reports presented by NDOH for our tracking purposes.
At first, NDOH said that it was possible to obtain these reports. However, after calling back and speaking with Del Yazzie from epidemiology, we were denied access to these reports.
Instead, we were told that NDOH doesn’t share data. Why is this life-saving and vital public health information being withheld?
We need to know the facts so we can be ready to shield our Nation from additional COVID-related death and devastation. The Navajo people also need this information to protect themselves and make informed decisions with respect to travel, gatherings, and how rigorously to follow the 3 W’s of wearing a mask, washing your hands, and watching your distance.
Until we can trust the data presented by NDOH, we and the Navajo people will continue to operate blindly, and the full impacts of COVID-19 on our Nation will remain unknown.
Give us the facts, NDOH!
Mihio Manus is Tódich’ii’nii (Bitter Water) born for Tsin sikaadnii (Clamp Tree). His maternal grandfathers are Omaha Deer Clan (Tapa) and his paternal grandfathers are Cherokee Bird Clan. He is from Chinle. Manus has a bachelor’s from Northern Arizona University’s School of Communication in photography.